[Senator] Inhofe said the photographs of U.S. soldiers mistreating hooded, naked prisoners should be accompanied by photos of mass graves and the executions of prisoners under Saddam-- as reported by CNN, May 12.
Call it a test of news judgment. Should the full graphic horror of the Nicholas Berg beheading be shown on national television, and documented by photographs in the newspaper? So far the answer from major gatekeepers is no. But I'm not entirely certain that will hold through the week.
Some think it shouldn't. Led by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, perhaps the most "watched" weblog in these matters; by Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News, who frequently departs from journalistic orthodoxy; and by others you can read about in this post, the argument has been made: editors and other gatekeepers in Big Media are mistaken--and proving themselves clueless, biased, disconnected or at least inconsistent--by not allowing, through the front page and newscast filter, the true gruesomeness and politicized horror of the Nick Berg killing.
They aren't showing us everything: the knife, the throat, the screams, the struggle, and the head held up for the camera. But the sickening photos from Abu Grahib keep showing up, and other developments in the ongoing abuse scandal are considered big news. Thus, Reynolds (go here and here) writes: "the big media leaders seem almost desperate to keep the story on Abu Ghraib, even to the point of running already discredited fake porn photos purporting to be from Iraq." (See Dan Kennedy on that fiasco.)
Fake porn aside, that sort of charge isn't new. What's different is the kind of evidence submitted to the court of media opinion. The Net's reactions--where, as Reynolds puts it, "users set the agenda"--are placed in live comparison to Big Media's treatment of the Berg video, photos and story. News Judgment New (the Web user's hunger to know, see, publicize and discuss) is set against News Judgment Old (the gatekeepers and their ideas about news, the public interest, and "taste.")
Judgment New shows up in the meta-news about popular search terms: On Friday, phrases like "nick berg video" and "nick berg beheading" and "beheading video" topped the Google charts, indicating where the interest was. Video of the actual beheading is, of course, available on the Web, after surfacing first on a site linked to Al Queda. (See this list of sites from Backcountry Conservative.)
The same video was not on network television; and it was not in the 24 hour news cycle on cable. Newspaper front pages have not featured photos of the act itself. "Our letters page today is filled with nothing but Berg-related letters, most of them demanding that the DMN show more photos of the Berg execution," wrote Dreher at National Review's weblog, The Corner. (The editorial page of the Dallas paper, where Dreher works, published a photo of one of the killers holding Berg's severed head, but blacked out the actual head "out of respect for the dead man's family and the sensitivities of our readers," as he put it.)