16 November 2010

War Journalism: A Question of Ethics

An image at the War Remnants Museum has got me thinking about ethical journalism. It was a photo of a terrified family holding on to one another; the caption read that the photographer asked a firing squad standing out of the photo’s frame to hold fire so that he could take his shot first.

I think he exploited the family in their time of ultimate fear and confusion –at what point does documentation become dehumanization?

I went on to irrationally slander war journalists for passively witnessing cruelty for their work. I called them cowards. The writing, which I’ll respectfully exclude from Global Osmosis, reflects the frustration and sadness that I felt as I examined the gruesome, chaotic, devastating photos at the War Remnants exhibit. Ignorant to the extent of the war before visiting Vietnam, I was overwhelmed by its chronic impact.

I am a visual learner. It wasn’t until I could see the conflict (euphemism for carnage) between America and Vietnam, in the museum photos that I could even begin to comprehend it.

War photographers, as a whole, are far from cowardly. It would be hypocritical to nark on these journalists who have heightened my understanding of what exactly a war is. And in the same breath I still question where you draw the line and put down the damn camera.


  1. This issue hits home as I read about a fellow University of Oregon School of Journalism alum, Cali Bagby, and one of my respected professors, Dan Morrison, who've recently returned from their work as embedded war journalists in Afghanistan.

    Here's their story and a video to add to this discussion: http://www.kval.com/news/local/107051228.html?

  2. I've spent a lot of time talking to Cali about what it is exactly that motivates her to embed herself in war zones. She left the relative comfort of a bike trip to endager herself in Afghanistan because she tells me it's a chance to try and make a difference in her own way and that when the opportunity came to go to Iraq the first time, she would have felt like a coward for not going. I agree with you that there is a line between being a human and photographer and sometimes that fuzzy line is crossed, but the public needs reporters shedding light on the wars and I'm glad you've realized this.

  3. Thanks for the dialogue!

    Here's another very conflicting opinion about the ethics of war journalism. I'd like to know how Cali and Dan would respond: