Wikileaks and Ethics

I am concerned about how news media used the disturbing video of the killing of two Reuters journalists by the U.S. military in Baghdad three years ago, a video obtained by the group Wikileaks and made public on April 5, causing worldwide controversy. It is clear from the audio that the gunship pilots thought the men on the ground had weapons. CNN was careful to put a black box over the most disturbing scenes, while continuing the audio of the helicopter gunship pilots, in the version shown on its cable channel. Despite claims by peace activists that CNN self-censored to please the Pentagon, in a separate version on its website CNN showed the full video. I think this was a wise decision. Anyone who wanted to see the full horror could see it online, but CNN did not impose it on unwilling viewers of its cable channel.  CBS and NBC in their evening shows, broadcast at dinner time when children might be watching, showed the full video of the killings, which I think risked upsetting young children. (ABC did not broadcast a segment on the controversial footage until two days later, with no explanation why the delay. As with CBS and NBC, ABC showed the full video of the killings.) While I feel that showing unedited footage could be harmful for young viewers, at the same time I am glad that Wikileaks obtained and publicized the video, to give Americans and others around the world a more realistic picture of what happens in wartime, as I have seen myself covering fighting in Lebanon in the 1980s.

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