Photos of bin Laden’s corpse: essential news reportage or too much information?

It is fair to say that for the past few days, the world has been gripped by the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. But amidst the elation, conspiracy theories have begun to surface questioning whether he has indeed been killed, or if this is an elaborate guise created by the American government to instil widespread confidence in its citizens and gain votes for the next election.

One simple solution has been offered to silence these questions, and that is to release the picture of America’s most wanted man in his final hours to the press. A hoax image has been circulating since the news broke on Sunday evening, but the White House is yet to make an official decision on the matter. This forces me to contemplate whether or not photographs of the deceased are essential to news journalism.

I remember being particularly struck by the images of Pope John Paul II lying in state that were emblazoned across every newspaper following his death in 2005. I was aware of all the facts regarding his death, but somehow seeing his corpse quite literally before me seemed unnecessary. There could be no reason to doubt that he had passed away, and to spread the images in such a manner was certainly not the honourable homage intended.

This is, of course, an entirely different situation to that of bin Laden’s demise, but the principles remain the same. Is there such a thing as too much information when it comes to modern journalism, or can it simply be passed off as covering all bases? Any sense of politesse is withering away in this no holds barred approach, and scarily, nothing is off limits.

It is certainly difficult to take a standpoint on an issue so shrouded in mystery, and in spite of my better judgement, I think that the general public should have access to the images. Ordinarily, I would say that this is a vile and entirely inhumane request, but the circumstances of this incident remain ever so slightly murky. His speedy religious burial is a million miles away from the crass “We got him!” after Saddam’s capture eight years ago.

Perhaps it is the rarity with which politicians fulfil their promises that has led to such suspicion regarding the veracity of this story. During his election campaign in 2008, Obama pledged to kill bin Laden. And he has. But it is a sorry state of affairs that we now distrust politicians so intensely that  further evidence is required to validate the information they have given us.

The concern remains that even if the White House did release these covert images, conspiracy theories would still arise. Over 40 years later and we still can’t decide if the first moon landing was in fact real, so what is to say that similar issues won’t crop up in this case?

This event also marks an interesting turn for Obama. Whilst no one can doubt his charisma, many had started to question his legitimacy as the ground breaking yes-man he appeared to be on the campaign trail. Can America really vote against the guy who killed bin Laden?

It is my personal opinion that no one’s death – in spite of their moral bankruptcy – should be a cause for celebration, but the scenes of elation after the news broke at Ground Zero showed worryingly little awareness of future terrorism prospects for the West. I’m not even sure I could bear to look at the photos if they were released, but perhaps we should have the option.The old saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’ may be ringing in my ears, but in this climate of explicit news coverage, that dead feline will be on every front page by tomorrow morning.


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