New York Times Denies US Gov’t Request to Remove Photo of Dying Ambassador

On Tuesday, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked by militants, resulting in the deaths of ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff. In an article reporting on the attack, The New York Times included a photograph that reportedly showed a bloody and unconscious Stevens, moments away from death. The image caused outrage with some readers, and soon attracted the attention of the United States government, which asked the Times to pull the photo. The Times said no.

Here’s how Philip B. Corbett, an editor at the Times, responded to the State Department request:

We understand and are deeply sensitive to the grief and anger surrounding the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Libya. Times editors had long discussions about the decision to include a photo of him after the attack as part of our online report.

Such decisions are never easy, and this one was harder than most. But this chaotic and violent event was extremely significant as a news story, and 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. We did, however, try to avoid presenting the picture in a sensational or insensitive way.

Unfortunately, our news coverage sometimes demands visual depictions of terrible events — bombing victims, famine victims, crime victims, fallen soldiers. We regret the pain this can cause to families and to other readers, but we feel the decision in this case is the right one.

Another editor, Dean Baquet, called the government takedown request, “an emotional argument.”

Joerg Colberg of Conscientious argues that people who don’t “exist as a mental image in the larger public’s mind should be granted the dignity […] not to have her or his dead body shown in a news context”:

“Newsworthy” must mean more than getting the “eyeballs”, the number of visitors to a website. “Newsworthy” must mean more than a photograph being connected to a news story. “Newsworthy” must mean that we, the viewers/readers, gain crucial insight into something that we would not have been able to grasp otherwise. If there is such crucial insight to be had then the general public needs to be able to see. Otherwise, we better grant the dead person the basic dignity everybody deserves, the basic dignity we, in all likelihood, would like to claim for ourselves as well.

This whole controversy revolves around the question: where does news end and exploitation begin?

  • Mike

    I think it is important that we, the voting public, get to see the consequences of decisions made. That is partially what news media is for.

    It is easy to dismiss the death of an unknown civilian in the Far East as ‘not newsworthy’ even if it is because of Western intervention, but less so when it involves a US ambassador.

    Look at that picture and remember that this ‘outrage’ is what our country does to other people elsewhere, on a daily basis. To people you won’t ever hear about. This should be newsworthy all day every day.

    This is not exploitation. This is reality.

  • Renato Valenzuela

    the new york times, whatever reservations one can have about the organization is quite possibly the last real news outlet there is. they always consider the big picture. after having read the article, it kind of puts to rest how and when the ambassador died. it answers questions readers dare not ask because of the sensitivity of the situation.

    the question that comes to mind, is “was he genuinely targeted?” or “was he collateral damage?”

    it’s gruesome yes, some say insensitive. but this is the reality we face.

  • Yeager St. John

    This is life. This is what is happening. The Times has the balls to accurately report this and shouldn’t take this image down just because a large portion of the American people can’t deal with this and would rather have their ‘news’ sugar-coated.

  • Nathan Blaney

    This photo perfectly illustrates the work of the savages of the Middle East and communicates perfectly why we should exterminate them. That alone is reason to run the photo. The public needs to be far less sheltered from the reality of what’s happening in the world. If more people saw this stuff, perhaps we would strike back as brutally as our enemies deserve.

  • CR

    So why is Petapixel blurring the image then?

  • Michael Zhang

    Our job is reporting the photo-related aspect of this story, and we’d prefer not to show this type of imagery here. We did the same thing last month after the Empire State Building shooting:

  • CR

    It’s your choice of course – but I think it undermines the credibility of your articles about photographer’s rights, freedom of press etc. If you don’t want to shock readers, you could use a system like Big Picture’s “click to show” with graphical image warning.

  • Nathan Blaney

    Censorship left and right around here. You’re not Libyan by any chance?

  • Samuel

    I think this raises the important balance between protection and censorship. With ignorance to what is going on the public will never drive for change but with constant and increasingly worse images daily we risk becoming desensitised. Need I bring up The Sun’s Gadaffi front page :|

  • TSY87

    in a sense it is “click to show”… you have to click the link and see the picture yourself in the article.

  • TSY87

    I agree… The picture itself isn’t extremely graphic anyway. I suppose news agencies could always have some sort of disclaimer for images that may be found offensive… but then again, our society has become overly sensitive about almost everything.

  • Chris

    I come here for camera porn, if I wanted to see graphic images I’d go to NYT.

  • G

    They don’t deny the request, do they? They simply do not comply..

  • Ellizzette Duvall

    New York Times….Disgraceful!

  • Ellizzette Duvall

    The character of the journos working for the Times is a “bully” “thug” mentality for ages now…this exemplifies it. Give a person money, power and access and see how they use it; and that determines the quality and character of the agency, company etc….
    Despicable. The editor needs to go!

  • Matt

    Wow, really? You are aware of where this happened right? Did you notice the Libya’s struggle to over throw oppression this summer? Did you notice that we supported them? Maybe not as much as I would like, but we definitely did not support that oppressive dictator. IMO that is how Sadam should have been delt with, not a made up war. I agree we need to all be more aware of our leader’s actions, but on the whole our actions the last 4 years have been a step in the right direction. Using political power to hold Egypt’s army out of their struggle, and helping with the support of Libya (remember their rebels getting beat until the air cover helped them).What about Syria? You think we should just watch them kill their citizens? I hate getting involved in another counties affairs, but some times the bloodshed has to stop. And when the citizens rebel, that is the time to help.