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Profs. R.B. Brenner & Bob Steele '69 on Possible Release of Osama bin Laden Death Photos

May 3, 2011

81948May 3, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — The possible release of photos and even video from the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- and how those images should be used -- is analyzed in a column by the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins. "Former Washington Post editor R.B. Brenner (and now Pulliam Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw University) told me, 'We (journalists) normally have a skittishness when we show a dead body. You have to consider the size and placement of a photograph.' Brenner said, 'I tend to believe in my gut and experience [that] when it comes to showing dead bodies I opt for smaller and not color.' And he said he would most likely choose to place such an image on an inside page, not on a cover." (top photo: R.B. Brenner; below right: Bob Steele)

Brenner adds, "It is a given that it is incredibly newsworthy. As you can see from the reaction of the American people, there is incredible emotion, almost a cathartic emotion to his death. Because the reaction is 85533more of a primal level reaction, people want to see his body."

Also quoted is Bob Steele, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism Ethics at DePauw and Phyllis W. Nicholas Director of the University's Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics. "I would think about verification and accountability," says Steele, a noted media ethicist and 1969 graduate of DePauw. "We are hearing specifics that he was shot in the head and that is how he died. There is an argument by some that he was assassinated as opposed to killed in a firefight. A photo adds one more piece to a large puzzle in helping us figure out what happened. Then there is the journalistic role of accountability. No matter what one believes about the right or wrong of what took place, the administration, the CIA and the military should be accountable for what happened."

Dr. Steele adds, "Absent seeing the photograph we don't have the opportunity to look at it and say, ‘This does not make sense.’ "

95898Tompkins writes, "But whatever choice you make about whether or not to use the graphic images, explain to the public why you made that decision, Steele advised."

Access the complete essay by clicking here.

Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Poynter Institute is dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders.

Robert M. Steele also serves as Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute. was quoted last week in a Los Angeles Times report on Donald Trump.  Details can be found in this article.

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