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War and the US –what you don’t see can't hurt

The US media's exclusion of graphic images fails to convey the reality of war and allows its glorification.
Last modified: 21 Jul 2014 03:41
Medics carry a wounded Palestinian man [Reuters]

I’ve never understood the people who don’t watch or read the news.  Obviously, I believe what we do is important, so I’ve always been a bit baffled.  I get it now.  I have been so overwhelmed with emotion watching the Gaza conflict unfold that it has in many ways consumed me from thousands of miles away. 

That means I’ve been doing a lot of walking around D.C. to try and get the pictures out of my head at least temporarily.  I was struck by a couple of things during my walks.  First, there are a lot of tourists in this town.  Second, they are here to see some very beautiful memorials.  And then I realized the old memorials here in Washington are all to war and to President’s that are associated with war.

That made me ask myself, is war at the heart of the American identity? Much of what is left of this country’s manufacturing base is to make tools of war, the planes, the bombs and the ships that carry them.  The United States spends more on defense than the next 13 countries combined.  At the heart of America’s foreign policy are weapons, they allow some to buy them and pay for others to have them as well.  The video game industry survives on make believe war and Hollywood benefits from it as well.  The one place you would be hard pressed to find graphic images of war – on television news. 

I’ve been watching the domestic coverage very carefully.  I’ve written about the bias that I see in some of the reporting.  It’s been fairly blatant in many cases, but there is a subtler form of bias and that is in choosing what pictures to show. 

No dead or dying

I watched the 3 network evening broadcasts the other night.  One talked to injured children but no one showed any of the dead or dying.  They showed bombs from far away, toppled buildings, most didn’t show close ups of mourning and not once did I hear the death toll. 

I’m not saying this is being done on purpose although that is always a possibility.  I was brought up in American television and quite frankly I never really questioned the practice of not showing graphic images.  In local news if a murder victim wasn’t covered up with a white sheet, you usually didn’t even take video of it until the coroner arrived.  It just isn’t what is done.  I remember when I first came to Al Jazeera English; I was very surprised, even mildly shocked, to see the footage we aired.  We are always careful to not cross that hard to define line, but we don’t censor ourselves the way the American media does.  In essence, we don’t sanitize the scene for our viewers to a point that it distorts the reality. 

The images of the grief in Gaza and Israel are just powerful.  The video of the dead, the grieving and destruction stays with you.  The Pentagon knows this, which is why for years no one was allowed to take any video of the caskets of fallen soldiers being returned home.  The loss becomes real.  War becomes real.

I just watched video of a father being told his baby girl was dead.  And his pain seared my heart.  In many ways I wish I had never seen that, but to me, turning away would in some ways insult her memory.  I have to watch this to really know what is happening.  Information that makes us more empathetic humans cannot be a bad thing, even if it is so terribly hard at times.

With this heavy heart, I think I might take another walk.  This time, I might go see the newest memorial; it honors the life of Martin Luther King Junior.  He spent his life in the search for justice through the use of non-violent resistance.  It will be good to be in the one place here where non-violence is held up as something worth honoring, something worth remembering.