Sensitive news: To publish or not to publish……
(CNN) — The topless duchess, the dying diplomat, cartoons of the Prophet and photographs of a secretive filmmaker. News coverage of all four has been a lightning rod for the debate about privacy, decency, tolerance, the right to publish and self-restraint.
Several media organizations came under fire for publishing a graphic photograph of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, as he was pulled from the burnt-out wreckage of the consulate in Benghazi, apparently unconscious and covered in soot. The New York Times rejected a request from the U.S. State Department to remove the photograph from its website.
Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ readers’ representative, acknowledged long discussions about whether the paper should publish the photo but added: “We believe this photo helps to convey that situation to Times readers in a powerful way. On that basis, we think the photo was newsworthy and important to our coverage.”
But she added the Times had tried to “avoid presenting the picture in a sensational or insensitive way.”
The Los Angeles Times published the photo on its front page, eliciting strong reader comments.
“With freedom of the press comes a responsibility to honor the most sensitive of moments. This was one of them, and The Times failed,” said Tim Sutherland.
“What was gained by this photograph? Was it newsworthy? We know the ambassador was attacked by a mob. We know he died,” commented David Latt.
Managing editor Marc Duvoisin argued the photo was newsworthy because it captured a very rare and significant event.