You can now add Moammar Gadhafi to TV’s rogues’ gallery of the dead.
Graphic video and at least one still photo of what appeared to be the corpse of the now late Libyan leader was aired on various networks Thursday morning as TV news struggled to confirm the news from Libya that rebel forces had either captured Gadhafi, killed him, or both (which is to say – depending on the story, they either captured, then killed him or, in another scenario, attempted to capture him, shot him, then captured him, after which he shortly expired from his wounds).
The video, which originated from Al Jazeera, appeared to show a scene in Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in which a bloody body is kicked and dragged by rebels, according to this story on the Hollywood Reporter Web site.
The story, posted Thursday on THR.com, details the chronology in which American networks broke the news of the Gadhafi death reports emanating from Tripoli. In the course of issuing the various bulletins, some networks showed the videotape and some did not. Some also showed a photo of what appeared to be the dead body of Gadhafi. In the photo, shot from the chest up, the bloody face of the Libyan dictator appears to be shown, shrouded by what appears to be a white sheet.
In one CNN report seen on Thursday morning, this death photo seemed to stay on-screen long enough for a viewer to become repelled enough to change the channel (OK, it was your Xfinity correspondent).
A debate, if any, on the appropriateness of showing such a photo, or the grisly video of rebels desecrating a corpse, has not broken out over either airing. But if past history is any guide, such a conversation might take place in the days ahead.
The arguments will sound familiar: One side will say the images were necessary in order to boost reporters’ accounts that Gadhafi was really dead. The other side will say that confirmation of his death would have come soon enough without news networks having to air repellent videos or still photos of a bloody corpse, even one that belonged to one of the most loathed individuals on the planet.
Our take has always been this: Networks should use discretion and, dare we suggest, any sense of good taste that they might still possess before deciding to broadcast violent videos or photos into the homes of people who are likely to be eating breakfast, packing their kids off to school or in the midst of any other activity during which such imagery is decidedly unwelcome.
At the very least, they should voice a warning before subjecting people to such material. (Let it be noted that some networks did issue warnings, according to the THR report.)
Ultimately, though, the decision to air such material is based less on taste and good manners than on competitive considerations. In other words, the decision-making “process” usually goes like this: If the other guy is airing it, we’ve gotta air it too.
And so, you get to see Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s bloody corpse while you’re trying to eat your cornflakes.