Why the Media Should Post Video of Fatal Stabbing

A fatal Albany stabbing was caught on tape with a cell phone and became available to the public during the trial. Should the media air it?

Times Union editor Rex Smith posed that question to readers after the newspaper posted the video. First, here’s the video.

As you might expect, reaction on Mr. Smith’s blog was strong and highly emotional. Even the victim’s mother participated. Many condemned the posting for the pain it inflicted on the family. One called it “sadistic, another “disgusting.” Some supported the act. The paper has “an obligation to report the truth” wrote one, another felt the world needs “a lesson violence is not the answer.”

I believe the video should have been posted. Reports of violence in the news are so commonplace that it is easy for the public to become detached from what are deeply personal and profound tragedies for those affected. The harsh reality the video exposes drives home how incredibly senseless these acts are. The video also provides an extraordinary window on how others react. To me, the videographer seemed more interested in capturing the video than stopping the tragedy. The onlookers did little to prevent the attack.

How did we get this way?

It isn’t easy for the family to relive the tragedy and I do sympathize with them. But the real harm to them has already been done. The questions are, “Will exposing this act in such stark terms lead to a greater awareness of what senseless and deadly violence is really like? Will that awareness lead to a greater resolve to end it? If so, then future tragedies could be prevented. If not, then we have bigger things to worry about than just one video.

I once interviewed a mother 20 minutes after her four-year-old boy was pronounced dead. A pit bull had ripped his throat out. The raw nature of her profound grief upset many of our viewers. It also got their attention. Pet safety became a much higher priority with owners and new restrictions on pit bulls were passed.

The video of the fatal stabbing might leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Maybe it should.

The writer is a former TV news reporter and current Siena adjunct media professor.