Monthly Archives: October 2009

Furor over Davidson photo most since Fallujah

Complaints about the photo of a smiling Lemaricus Davidson have continued. I don’t believe any photo has caused such a furor since the picture of the corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
My column for this Sunday compares the reaction to these very different but still disturbing images:
It has been almost two weeks, and we’re still getting criticism for running a photo of a Lemaricus Davidson grinning.
These complaints have not been mild:
“The picture of a smiling Davidson and his attorneys on the front page was disgusting and in very poor taste.”
* “Show some respect for the families of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.”
* “That was a glimpse into Hell!”
The reaction, in fact, is the most vehement we have had to a photograph since the 2004 image of the burned corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq.
The decision to publish that photo followed a protracted news-meeting debate. Although the photo was horrifying, we decided readers deserved to see the image because of the seriousness of the situation.
Perhaps mistakenly, the Davidson photo triggered much less discussion. We already had run dozens of courtroom shots from the case, and the picture, though capturing an unusual and telling moment, was just one part of our ongoing coverage.
Readers voiced a variety of objections to the Fallujah photo.
Some felt it was simply too grisly. It didn’t pass the “Cheerios test,” as we say when content is too raw to offer with breakfast.
Others were concerned about children. The young, parents said, should not have such a nightmarish image thrust upon them.
Still others felt the photograph was disrespectful of the dead, an unnecessary violation of their privacy heaped upon already unspeakable abuse.
A few also voiced concern for the families of the dead and asked how we would feel if those were our sons hanging from the bridge.
Some readers did support publication of the Fallujah photo.
They argued that Americans had a right and a duty to witness the grim reality of Iraq. They considered the photo to be within the tradition of American war photography, which has conveyed painful truths ranging from scenes of the Antietam battlefield to the image of a burned and naked Vietnamese girl running from napalm.
The truth, they felt, needs to be seen.
The objections to the Davidson photo were, perhaps, more complex.
On the face of it, the scene wasn’t ghastly. Innocent children wouldn’t have been frightened by the photo. The men weren’t hideous in appearance.
In a way, it was the normalcy of the scene that was so upsetting. Set against the images in our own minds of the horror of Channon and Christopher’s deaths, the levity at the defense table jarred.
Many readers directed their anger at the newspaper when they considered how the Newsom and Christian families would feel about seeing the photograph.
Here at the News Sentinel, we believe it is important to convey to the community the facts of this case, even the sadly painful ones. We are committed to documenting this important judicial process thoroughly.
But certainly we wish no harm to the Christians and Newsoms, who already experience far more horror in that courtroom than any of us can imagine and whose suffering is beyond all nightmares.
We have nothing but the deepest sympathy, compassion and prayers for them.

Did Christian-Newsom video violate unwritten rules?

The documentary on the Christian-Newsom case — Death on Chipman Street — that our Web producers did raise a concern from at least one local television professional. He sent the following e-mail to a journalism prof at the University of Kentucky:
“Per old unwritten rules of broadcast TV – we’d not do anything like that … until closure out of concern that such would enflame the situation, taint the chances of attracting an unbiased local jury and therefore get in the way of justice being served. However, this comes from not a local TV station – not a local production house – not a party to one side or the other but rather, it’s from the local newspaper’s website. Several more trials are in the offing. One starts in two weeks.”
The response of the j-prof was:
“I was blown away by the story. With two trials out of the way, and all the publicity up to this point, I doubt very much that a fair and heart-touching story will cause any harm to the justice system. I would have been proud to have done that piece and in the way it was edited and presented, I would not have thought twice about giving the okay to air it.”
Generally, I’m of the opinion that concerns about tainted jury pools are overblown by lawyers looking for excuses. I think the jury selection process and the option of changing venue allow for the seating fair and impartial juries in virtually every case. I can understand, however, that television reports, which reach directly into homes and can easily play on emotions, might be more worrisome than newspaper stories.
Coming from the newspaper background, we didn’t know anything about this unwritten rule when we produced the documentary, and we wouldn’t have worried much about it if we had.
In any case, I think Death on Chipman Street was a fine piece of journalism, and I’m proud of the professionalism of our folks who produced it.

Tom Humphrey wins recognition

Our man in Nashville, Tom Humphrey, recently was listed as one of the best statehouse political reporters in The Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog. (Although his paper was misidentified as the Knoxville News.) humphreytomclr_.jpg
Earlier this year, Tom also won recognition for his weekly column from Capitol Beat, the national organization of statehouse reporters.
Although Tom is one of the News Sentinel’s newest bloggers, his Humphrey on the Hill has quickly become one of our most popular blogs.
All this is happening for a simple reason. Tom’s a great reporter, and we’re glad to have him.

False alarm at Bearden Middle

There have been some local media reports suggesting that a Bearden Middle School nurse has died of swine flu, and that she might have infected students at the school.
Some readers have wondered why we haven’t done a story reporting this.
Well, best as we can tell, it’s not true. Larry Vineyard, chief investigator with the Regional Forensic Center in Knoxville, says the nurse tested negative for H1N1. The flu was not a factor in her death.