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A Picture's Worth...

Had an interesting casual conversation with some journalist friends over the weekend about the shooting of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, or rather about the coverage of the shooting.

Most interesting was this query: "Do you know the Detroit Free Press hasn't run a single picture of the police officer who shot that child?"

Actually, no I didn't know, as I mostly follow the papers online these days. But I sure am curious as to why.

The local papers run pictures of cops in trouble all the time. And they certainly run photos of people involved in all manner of controversy, violence, accidents and assorted other mishaps. And they have never, to my knowledge, ever shied away from running photos of any person of color embroiled in potentially racially sensitive controversies -- and certainly not ones with life-and-death implications like this. (I can't think of a lot of white folks who've gotten this treatment either, truth be told.)

So if what I hear is right, what's really the thinking behind this glaring omission? One friend thinks it is likely race, that the decision is probably driven, at least in part, by skittishness that predominantly black Detroiters might not be able to control their rage at the sight of a white cop's face in the paper. That'd be weak and confused logic, of course, but wouldn't be the first time I've heard of it happening in newspapers. Somehow, some news leaders think that by reporting what happened you only add to people's anger. But it's not the reporting or the pictures that piss off people -- but the event itself. I mean, really, who goes postal over a newspaper photograph? The idea that black readers couldn't handle seeing a picture of the officer without tossing a trashcan through the window of Sal's Pizzeria is small-minded, silly and insulting.

Second, who does a paper protect by not running a picture in a case like this? Certainly not the officer. I grew up in the community where little Aiyana lived and died, and I guarantee you that folks over there didn't need a newspaper photo to get word around that the officer whose gun fired the shot was a white man.

(And in any event, the overwhelming sentiment I've heard hasn't been racial animus, but rather unimaginable grief over the little girl's death and smoldering anger at the department as an institution. For most, this is at least as much about black-and-blue as about black-and-white.)

Third, why would any newspaper think its job is to withhold information, even potentially infuriating headshots?

Maybe there are other reasons for not running a photo of the officer. Maybe, suddenly, pictures of the principals involved in a local tragedy that has captured national attention no longer have news value. (Not that that has stopped anyone from running heart-wrenching pictures of the child who died or of the grandmother whom the police have alleged "made contact" with Officer Weekley and caused the gun to go off.)

Sure, maybe it's not that deep. In today's multimedia world, after all, it's not that hard to find a photo in one place if you can't find it somewhere else. So it's doubtful that anyone who really wanted to know what Weekley looks like couldn't have easily found out on another site. Nothing lost there.

But still, I'm worried about what we lose when newspapers start withholding information, especially if it's because they don't think readers can handle it.

What do you think? Should a newspaper run a photo of an officer in circumstances such as the Aiyana Jones tragedy? Is fear of violent backlash because of a photo a legitimate concern for news organizations? I don't think so, but share your thoughts...

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  • 1

    That's sure not how I learned to deliver history's first draft, as journalists call it.

    Readers now can wonder what else Freep sensitivity screeners feel is unfit to print.

    It's reassuring, at least, that similar skittishness didn't keep the officer's photo out of The News two days after the shooting, when it also appeared with an report. And on May 19, Marc Santia of WDIV broadcast video footage of Officer Weekley at a SWAT for Tots toy giveaway and on the A&E series.

    Memo to Paul Anger and team:
    We can handle the truth . . . the whole truth . . . and not a filtered version of the truth..

  • 2

    i agree. The Freep should have run the photo. To withhold it is ignorant. What reason did the paper give when you called its spokesperson?

  • 3

    The media not running this photo is not a newsflash nor a practice they are not beneath doing...The media in our nation has always had contempt for Black folks of course the media is not the only party that would engaged in this behavior ....Many companies and schools, senior retirement homes etc all have engaged in NEGROPHOBIA by the omission of Black faces, photographs etc..

    Sad but still true our nation still has this pathology of NEGROPHOBIA....

  • 4

    Never forget taking my wife and kids up north and we stopped in Sutton's Bay at a rather nice new rural Motel.

    My wife decided to take some clothes down to the laundry, bathing suits and such, and when she entered, one of the maids was in there and upon seeing my wife, SHRIEKED AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS!

    Not very pleasant.

    Being married to a black woman does broaden your perspective.

    But Darrell is right, certain important stories are being withheld and the thought of Warren parading before the camera with an assault weapon is nothing but supercilious and ludicrous.

    When the newspapers withhold important stories they are complicit and manipulative. Some would might even say devious and immoral. Shadowy moves which preclude the light of day.


  • 5

    Did you read Henderson's Editorial today.

    The guy is frigging nuts or stupid. Take your pick.

    Attacking Kim Worthy???
    Attacking a reporter???
    Hushing stuff up???

    The Free Press published the name of the guy who put on the "Never Proven Party".

    Give us a break!

    Luther never would have done such stuff.

    Disgusting as it gets.


  • 7

    Who needs a picture all losers look alike..

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