NBC displays poor judgment by showing footage of dead Olympian
A few hours after a Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a tragic accident, NBC rightfully opted to devote some time to Kumaritashvilli and the somberness that now covers the 2010 Winter Olympics.
But they went further than that. In a controversial move, they decided to air the footage of the luger’s death.
NBC anchor Brian Williams told viewers “the pictures are very tough for some people to watch,” and promptly showed Kumaritashvili’s accident not once, but three times, including one slow-motion replay.
Many viewers and media members felt NBC went too far in doing so. They called it shameless and said NBC pulled the stunt because it is desperate for ratings.
Several questions come to mind when examining the decision, most notably whether viewers really wanted to see such a gruesome event. Considering it aired during primetime and the potential for family viewing, airing someone’s death is a bit morbid.
But if NBC had not aired it, someone else certainly would have.
Other members of the media were present, as well as spectators who had camera phones or video recorders rolling. Any of them would’ve been more than happy to sell their footage or upload it onto some Web site.
Moreover, there is definitely a group of people out there who were interested in viewing the footage for their own personal reasons.
Beyond that, there is the question of whether this is a good journalistic standard to set.
NBC News’ job, first and foremost, is to report clean and unbiased news. To that end, it did its job by reporting on Kumaritashvili’s death. Perhaps because it did not wish to come across as mouthpieces for the Olympics, NBC opted to air the footage.
Many news organizations, including The Daily Cougar, have faced this kind of moral dilemma when someone dies and photos or video footage of the death or body exists.
Last February when Joe David Tall, a local homeless man, was shot and killed at a campus bus stop, The Cougar opted to show a photograph of the victim lying at the crime scene (the face could not be seen). Naturally, questions arose over taste.
The issue seems to be control over the content. Once something is viewed, it cannot be unviewed.
Thus, it seems the middle ground could be allowing those interested in viewing the material to do so on demand. NBC could’ve satisfied its journalistic integrity by telling viewers that the full footage was available on its Web site.
That might still be too much for some people, and that’s without thinking about what Kumaritashvili’s family would want. But it would at least make for fewer headaches.
The Winter Games are all about extremes, and many people watch knowing full well people slip, crash, fall and get hurt during some of the events.
Certainly that’s all fine and good, but caution must be exercised with the dead to respect their memories.