In 1994, South African photographer Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer prize for one of the most controversial photographs in the history of photojournalism. A year earlier, while in Sudan, he had photographed a young malnourished girl, crumpled up on the ground in an obviously exhausted state, resting as she struggled to reach a U.N. food center. In the background, only a few feet away from her, also on the ground, was a vulture. The bird of prey was intently watching the girl, undoubtedly waiting for a meal once she transpired. Originally entitled "Struggling Girl," the disturbing photograph was renamed, "The Vulture and the Little Girl."
Carter spent about 20 minutes after the vulture landed to get the right angle for his photo. Trying not to disturb the bird, he watched it slowly approach the girl until close enough to capture the shot he wanted. He then chased the bird away.
The photograph was sold to The New York Times, which published it on March 26, 1993. Its publication immediately triggered calls from concerned readers as to the girl's fate. A later editor's note explained the girl's parents had run ahead of their daughter to take food off the U.N. plane that had just landed and that the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture but that her ultimate fate remained unknown.
Carter immediately came under attack for failing to assist the girl – which he admitted – leaving her to reach the feeding center by herself. He was criticized for only being concerned about her long enough to take the photograph. One critic wrote, "The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene." Carter often expressed his personal regret about failing to help the child afterward.
This was not the first time Carter had photographed human suffering. He had captured shots of public executions by necklacing in 1980s South Africa as well as other violence of the time. Asked about taking such photos, he responded, "I had to think visually. … But inside something is screaming: 'My God!' But it is time to work. Deal with the rest later. If you can't do it, get out of the game."
He did eventually "get out of the game" months after winning the Pulitzer by taking his own life. He left a note sadly describing his torment:
"I'm really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist. … I am depressed. … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen. …"
While the above occurred three decades ago, it becomes relevant in the aftermath of what was just discovered about the Oct. 7 Hamas raid into Israel that brutally killed 1,400 innocent victims.
Accusations have been made that major news outlets, including AP, Reuters, CNN and The New York Times, had photographers who took a walk on the dark side during the Hamas raid. These photographers had accepted invitations to be embedded with the terrorists on Oct. 7. Israel's Government Press Office reports that four photographers working for the above liberal news sources "filmed the murder of civilians, the abuse of bodies and the abduction of men and women." If so, this crosses every ethical, moral and professional red line in news reporting.
Completely oblivious to such red lines and apparently feeling completely at ease with the Hamas animals, one photographer even went so far as to take a selfie with a local Hamas leader.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding answers from those involved.
Whether these photographers were local "stringers" in the Middle East employed by these networks matters not as even purchasing the photos from them crosses those red lines as well.
Another development concerning media behavior arises with the submission of a letter signed by 750 "self-described" journalists accusing Israel of targeting those reporters embedded with Hamas post-Oct. 7 and that mainstream media editors are undermining "Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes."
Obviously, these 750 so-called journalists are overwhelmingly Hamas militants masquerading as such. It would be interesting to see how many of them have written negatively about Hamas – such as mentioning a video recently appearing on social media of terrorists shooting Palestinian civilians in Gaza attempting to escape the war zone or their use of such civilians as shields. Concerning the video, an independent Western journalist reported Israeli forces were allowing civilians to evacuate a hospital when Hamas took those same civilians under fire, gunning down at least a dozen.
The lack of independence among these 750 was underscored by a CNN journalist's Facebook page showing him with a Hamas terror cell inside Israel while holding a hand grenade – a clear indicator he lacked independence as well as an invitation for getting shot. More recently, Israel cut ties with an "independent" NBC freelance reporter after she posted a pro-Hamas social media message. She was arrested in Israel, where she resides, for inciting terror by sharing four posts on Facebook glorifying the Oct. 7 massacre.
The vulture and girl photographer, Carter, had a conscience, demonstrated later by his regret over failing to have helped her reach the food center. That conscience led to depression, causing him to claim his own life. Rest assured, any photographer embedded with Hamas willing to witness and take photographs of murdered Israelis lacks that conscience.
The above raises an easily answered question. What ethical, moral and professional responsibility do media members have when the need to save a human life arises?
If they knew what would happen in advance, their duty was to decline the offer. Did they then have a duty to forewarn the Israelis? The law recognizes journalists can claim "reporter's privilege" in some cases when subpoenaed about disclosing sources. But the law also recognizes certain privileged relationships – such as attorney/client communications – can be violated when human life is at stake. It is doubtful any Western court would have found a forewarning photojournalist as violating any privilege.
If the journalists did not know in advance, obviously there is absolutely nothing they could have done to stop the killing. However, by any measure of morality they should have refused to participate in taking photos of the barbaric killings. And, concerning those photographers who took selfies and made Facebook posts, they clearly lacked an ethical, moral and professional compass.
While a picture is worth a thousand words, these photographs tell us a lot about how low the ethics, morality and professionalism of our mainstream media have fallen.
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