This photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams on February 1, 1968 in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. It depicts the summary execution of Viet Cong Captain Nguyễn Văn Lém by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese brigadier general and police chief. The shocking photograph—in its brutal horror—helped galvanize the anti-war movement and the mounting sense of the war’s futility. (Adams won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot Photography for the image.)
I thought about sharing the 1972 photograph of Kim Phuc, the naked nine-year-old Vietnamese girl fleeing down a street after a napalm bomb was dropped on her village. Or the 1970 image at Kent State University of Mary Ann Vecchio, in horror and disbelief, kneeling next to a dead student, face-down, after he was killed by the Ohio National Guard. Or the image of a lone man blocking the path of Chinese tanks in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in Beijing.
Can a photograph change minds? This question has been on my mind since last weekend’s massacre by AR-15 rifle during the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. In an effort to protect the victims and their families and presumably minimize the public’s trauma, media outlets have typically chosen not to publish images of death’s toll—particularly given the devastating effects of these high-powered killing machines. But as the number of mass shootings (already 325 this year) continues to rise, is it time to change that policy? Is the sanitizing of the grisly reality not desensitizing a public that could be motivated to demand change?
This is a tough one. There’s no easy answer. I look forward to hearing what you think. As always, I ask you to be considerate in your responses to each other.
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Yes. I am a retired surgeon. And have trauma experience. The media should be showing the horrible devastating wounds that these high velocity weapons of war inflict. The pictures could be taken with precautions to protect the corpses’ privacy. The horrific injuries would wake up at least some of these clueless people for sure.
Show people what those guns really do. They don't make a nice neat hole, they blow the body apart. The children in Texas needed DNA matching so the officials could identify the corpses--because in some cases they were headless. Don't like it? Then ban the damned things. Maybe people who cherish their assault weapons more than children need a wake-up call.
Share share share. This ridiculous desire to save the public from the trauma of seeing the dead bodies is wrong. The more we see the death the more chance of reading this country of guns and mass murders. Let these gun owners see what they’re afraid of seeing, dead bodies town apart.
Yes, it is time to openly share what we have chosen as a Nation to accept as the norm.
In the spirit of Emmett Till's mother helping to spark a movement by demanding her battered son's body be displayed to show the brutal reality of the racist attack by KKK members, I think it's high time photos of destroyed children are shown, a picture IS worth 1000 words. AR15s leave devastating wounds, like a grenade going off inside the body, leaving kids recognizable only through DNA, skilled doctors unable to find enough pieces of organs to even consider sewing them back together. There is not a liver with a clean bullet hole through it, there are handfulls of shredded tissue like ground hamburger. At the very least the GOP senators and representatives who still insist on their misguided interpretation of a well regulated militia must be forced to view a barrage of photos of the result of their intent to allow any and everyone to own a weapon of war. Each time there is another mass shooting, and there will continue to be shootings on a daily basis in America, these NRA beholden pawns must see, on a loop, until they feel as nauseous and bereft as the parents of these sacrificial lambs, the carnage inflicted on American children, their families, friends, aquaintences, not to mention the responders and medical staff who have no choice in seeing the slaughter. The very people elected to office to protect all of us are complicit in our murder and they need to see the fruit of their handiwork.
If the victim’s family gives permission, perhaps with their comments, I see no reason why photos shouldn’t be released. But, not for sensationalistic reasons.
Your points are resoundingly clear. Unfortunately, the current journalistic norm to not highlight the real life situation in real time will only be hiding the truth from public debate. Unless we all see what effects the brutality of others have on our society change might just be out of reach
This is such a difficult question. So many of us seek the "something" that will wake folks up. But I'm also aware that individually and collectively, we have seen so much horror, even (or perhaps especially) from afar, that there is a kind of dissociation, a numbness, an inability to be horrified into action. I wish it were true that one dramatic image would wake people up, but sadly I'm not sure there is such a thing. At least not until we wake up to what has happened to our nervous systems -- whether we name it trauma or something else -- and embark on real healing. So much more to be said about this ... thank you for raising the question!
There was a time…and I’d like to think that picture-which “paints a thousand words”- could still change minds, but I don’t know. Whether it does or doesn’t, I believe that graphic pictures of mass shootings should be shown. Every American should have to look at dead and bleeding children. Every time. Our tender sensibilities are inconsequential compared to the suffering of all these victims. I know many NRA members, some family, who cling to their guns like idols. Every network should have to show photos of mass shootings, especially fox and other far-right networks.
Could the media show the devastating effects of these weapons by using an animal corpse? Maybe one that might be the weight of a child? Or any other object like a soft mannequin?
Another question - why do states not require gun owners to purchase liability insurance? This could also deter some from purchasing weapons.
Why not show an X-ray of the corpse? The damage is visible without the gore. These weapons truly are different and people need to realize that to make an informed decision.
Thank you for asking this question of your subscribes. I think of young Emmitt Till’s mother, who bravely insisted that her son’s casket be open so all, including photographers, could see the horror inflicted on his young face and body.
Complicated story. The general/executioner immigrated to the US. The photographer testified against his deportation and apologized to him, citing the decontextualization accomplished by the image, that no one can know what they would have done under the circumstances. But of course this is evidence of the power of photography. I think we probably do need to know more of the horror of gun violence. But we need to recognize that photographs will be neither neutral nor the whole story.
I agree with Robert Dale. I worked as an RN in emergency departments at a small rural hospital and a large teaching hospital. Words alone can’t convey the horror.
If it were up to me, I would force every person in Congress who voted against serious gun control
laws to view 1st hand the bodies of people who were killed by gunshot, especially by assault rifles. But it’s not up to me.
The next best thing would be to obtain color photos that are as large as possible, send them to each member of Congress who voted “no,”
and have the photos attached to a serious gun control bill.
Any member of Congress who votes against attempts to pass serious gun control laws is corrupt. All you have to do is think about why they refuse and its obvious their motives are corrupt. They are saying they’re not willing to lose their next election, that their personal power and financial status is more important than hundreds of innocent lives, and that, my friends is corrupt.
The best analogy to it is—the inmates are running the prison.
Emmet Till's mother did a heroic service to the nation by insisting that her sons ravaged body be displayed. THIS is what it looks like. The media tends to have a lot of talk about the shootings, interviews of community members, some family, politicians, all talking of the horror. What a game changer it could be if there was actually footage shown of the aftermath of a mass shooting. The video of George Floyd's murder was instrumental in bringing cavalier police brutality front and center. As awful as it would be, I think that it might change the debate if the people who want to "shoot varmints" and collect weapons of mass destruction have to defend keeping these instruments of horror in their possession. They want 2nd Amendment Rights? Let them keep all the muskets they want.
YES YES YES Coroner in Uvalde could hardly bear doing his job - having to use DNA to identify the dead because their features had been blown away, so horribly mutilated no one could identify them other than what they might have been wearing - the tennis shoes. What will it take for ppl to wake up and ALL demand a return to assault weapons ban - hate to say but maybe when one of their own... but then maybe not.
Education is not working now, but I don't think allowing gore can succeed without causing competition for the most arresting or popular image. The AP might do it sensitively, but others could post unacceptable material. By the way, I have not "chosen to accept this as the norm" even if the Nation may have.
Very true!! In April this year, a gunman struck on the New York subway. At least 29 people were injured, including ten people shot, when the attacker donning a gas mask deployed a gas canister on a subway train and started shooting.
What caught my attention was how most of the media brought the information to the public. Newsrooms made the decision to show the true horror of gun violence. Though faces were blurred in pictures the blood ran red and loud for everyone to see. The bodies on the ground were in pain, and the tourniquets were a sign of the medical emergencies at hand. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal placed the photo below on their front-page coverage today of the shooting. (I applaud that newsroom judgment.)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the dastardly crimes being committed through orders from President Putin’s generals, have placed the most horrific and troubling images on news programming 24/7. So perhaps newsrooms just felt the level of violence that played out in Brooklyn was not so much different from what we have already been seeing over the past weeks.
But I trust there was more to it than an acceptable level of what the public can handle. I trust there was an awareness in newsrooms of being franker about what is actually occurring many times each day when guns are fired at other people in this nation.
This is what it looks like, and the public need to see images like this to allow them a better understanding of the news about gun violence which happens daily.
The graphic images of gun violence through the powerful lens of photojournalism simply must be used far more often in our nation. To read about shootings is one thing but to see the blood and wincing of faces in pain is another. The consequences of pervasive gun violence should be used in news reporting as it is very much a part of the whole story. So it is vital that the real impact of guns get front-page coverage, with the gore and blood from news photos for all to see.
I did tech-support in my local high school from about 2000 till about 2010. My homebase was an open computer lab where students filtered in and out throughout the day. I hung numerous photos and copies of documents on my wall (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights got a lot of attention)
Then there was that one time when the US government permitted photographs showing the coffins of dead soldiers being returned to the US. I printed out an 8” x 10” copy and posted it near my desk. I noticed that students who had come to get help, or change their passwords, would stand by my desk and stare at the photo.
Yes, I believe the images should be shown, because it's the only way the violence and these murders register to most Americans. We've never had wars fought on our home soil and had to live with the fear and anxiety that triggers. As a result, we're always arms length from the carnage.
And the hawks in our government knows this is true. Why else did former President GW Bush end recording the return of soldiers' body at Dover Field? In years past, each time that ceremony was broadcast, anyone who viewed got a visceral reminder of the price that's paid.
It should be so for the thousands of American dead, victims of epidemic gun violence our leaders refuse to end with meaningful legislation.
Show the images, especially to those that support weapons of war under the guise of 2nd amendment rights. Somebody, please stop the horrific mass shootings.
If it was my relative or child, yes, I would share it. Without remorse.
hollywood has completed the cultural transference of doubting credulity when our reactions to what we see in reality becomes "it seemed just like a hollywood movie."...that is what i am afraid will happen to showing images from mass shootings...why not call these instruments what they are: weapons of war and place the militarization of the population front and center?
I arrived in Berlin (Spec Ops) 6 months right after this event.
One year later Pres. Kennedy made, what I believe along with the Gettysburg Address, the most definitive speech defining Democracy. It was the stamp of approval for the continued, successful development of the EU and NATO.
"Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we never had to up a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.
"Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free."
How easy to forget.
Yes ,It's absolutely horrifying but unless Rep Congress has these images scarred in their minds they'll be in denial. Even if it's just on the walls in Congress behind closed doors, at least our leaders will see what a AK15 can do. Show a innocent child to them that's been decapitated, make them HAVE to have that nightmare image embedded in their minds, or those deaths were a total waste. The innocent victims deserve that .The public can't do anything unless Congress makes changes so force the Republicans to understand the real damage caused by their refusal of responsibility. I'm afraid the public can't handle the true images but we need to force leadership to see what no control does.
I think if photos were published showing the horror of mass shootings and the destruction of the human body caused by firing automatic weapons into crowds or a classroom, people WOULD be horrified - the first few times it was shown. After that, a lot of people would become desensitized. Let's face it, people became desensitized to the massive corruption of the Trump administration, so much so that they refuse to stop believing in him and the rest of his collaborators in Congress and are of the opinion that he and only he is telling the truth and the facts are just lies. The same thing would happen to the display of images of the dead and how brutally mauled their bodies are. Some people would refuse to believe the photos weren't photoshopped and they'd claim these photos are nothing more than "red flags" published by those who are "comin' for yer guns".
It's certainly a difficult question, but one we must address. Here's the broader frame for the discussion: a whole generation of young Americans have grown up watching the most brutal and gory depictions of violence on TV, in film and in video games. And they do so for hours on a daily basis. But the violence that is witnessed is shorn of any consequences. Let's not even mention the bystanders in these "entertainments" who are collateral victims of the endless carnage depicted in car crashes and bomb explosions? Both - the good guys and the bad - all carry guns. The only difference being that the "good" guy fires the last bullet. It's how every argument is settled.
Now do not tell me that all of this does not condition the minds of these viewers. Young people, who receive a cursory education at best, but are subjected to the dogma of priests and other bigots in the name of religion. Priests, I might add, who raise bloody hell in their quest to deny women the right to health care, but utter not a word of condemnation about the massacres of little children in their classrooms.
So back to the central question: yes, the real depiction of violence - of how a bullet from an AK47 mutilates the body of a child - needs to be shown in all its gory detail. Put hoardings up across the nation if necessary. We need to shock people out of their complacency. We need to stop playing by the rules of the NRA and gun apologists whose interests are clearly served by having no real discussion about the consequences of allowing people unfettered access to guns.
Can we not reclaim so much as an iota of common sense?
Having been an activist in the sixties with a father serving in Viet Nam, I too have been pondering this question. I do think judiciously showing gun violence images could be helpful, although it is hard to know if people are just too numb to violence anymore. So much would depend on presentation and context. Worth considering.
Yes. Most people associate gun wounds with TV dramas or movies. They can support more powerful guns because they see the deadly force is not that bad in the movies. This is what it must look like in real life to be shot by an AR-15. If people saw the real carnage it might change some minds.
As an RN, I worked for many years in a small rural hospital. We did not have trauma from the AR-15 but we had every other kind of injuries and death. Seeing with your own eyes how fragile the human body is will change anyone’s perspective especially if the body is a child. Yes, it is time for the media especially television to show the results of our gun toting cowboy culture. Of course, with family permission.
Yes, show photos of the actual carnage because the photos show us all what the survivors witnessed and have to live with from that moment on. Think of the school children in Uvalde. They were in the classroom for one hour surrounded by the mutilated bodies of their classmates not knowing if they would be next. Needless to say, that trauma will stay with them always. Yes, our lawmakers need to witness what every survivor of a mass shooting witnessed during the event. Maybe then they'll see that high velocity weapons of war only belong in a war zone. Yes, show photos of the actual carnage that our children are witnessing.
As devastating as they are, show the images. The physician’s oath is “Do no harm”. What is the journalist’s oath? Is it reveal the truth? If the sight of a headless child doesn’t change some minds, then what will? Charles Blow, in his op-ed for The NY Times, asks the same question of the media? The public doesn’t need protecting, it needs truth.
I’m in the yes camp.
Unfortunately, yes we need to take the covers off of this continuing disaster. We have lost a lot of our lust for war because activities are now aired from every perspective, constantly, with horror never before seen in wartime news coverage, which makes Russia's actions in Ukraine inexcusable, just as these shootings are here.
Twitter is full of horrific images of Ukraine. Even the MSM showed some. Yet images of atrocities in America are never shown. Yes, this needs to change.
Photographs can absolutely change public opinion. Sterilized versions of reality lack the virulence of the truth. So we have become inoculated to truth and resistant to its effects.
I do think photographs can sway opinion & likely change minds in some cases. "Seeing is believing".
With complete deference to victim families, imagery of mass shooting scenes should be required viewing at public hearings in the Congress that are held to address firearm safety & regulatory considerations.
Nothing else has worked.
If the Democrats can't find their tongue with all this governing by crisis I don't think they will.
The photogtapher in an interview was asked hoe he managed to ger that shot, he said that "swhen the Police Chief raised his gun, I raised my camera. When the Police Chief squeezed the trigger, I squeezed the shutter."
How far are we going to let the killing go. That is not something we want to get used to. I was in a lot of places, Nam included, that armed soldiers walked the streets. They were the law, drunk, smoked up, or sober.
"We are free today substantially, but the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few. A Republic cannot stand upon bayonets, and when the day comes when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must rely upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nations to the changed conditions."
One of our jobs was to unload chopperfulls of dead Marines.
"If free men refused to look at dead bodies then brave men will have died in vain." ~ John Shaw Billings
I believe we *must* show the horrors of gun violence in the USA. Our culture has been numbed to the devastation due partly to the sanitized reporting in our media coupled with the Hollywood-ization of such violence. I.E. it is not shown graphically and in the next movie we see the same actor(s) in completely fine state.
We *must* show it graphically!!
I think we've reached the point where the public needs to see the carnage.
I’m torn. Sometimes I think yes, let’s show the devastation in detail, but then other times I realize we may be providing the fodder these violence seekers are after. How about always posting photos of those who have lost their lives along with some personal/family history (if the families agreed). Then publish at the same time the voting records of all legislative gun violence enablers for easy reference. They can start with the US Senate and then go down through local politicians. Time to show folks who acts and who doesn’t.
I wish we didn’t have to wrestle with this question. Emmett Till’s mother *chose* to share the disturbing photo of her son. I would suggest getting the consent of the families of the people shown in such photos, or pixelating any identifying faces or features. Seeing such photos should become as unpleasantly normal as mass shooting events.
Could the victim's relatives sue the media for showing such a picture, without permission , for invasion of privacy?
Doubt owners will ever give up their guns unless against the law, and good luck getting something like that passed.
The risk of sharing on social media for sensationalism, or worse, is real. Once an image is published by a legitimate media outlet, it's going to be co-opted by propagandists who have VERY different aims.
This is not the 1970s. Social media, image manipulation, Russian and Chinese propagandists, and cynical opportunists like Fox and Alex Jones have changed the possible outcomes of publishing such photos.
I've thought about this some in a broader sense. It doesn't seem like the kinds of images that change peoples minds or are even "iconic" (such as "Afghan Girl" or "V-J Day in Times Square") happen anymore. I think the increased accessibility of photography, first through digital, then through cameraphones and smartphones, has led to an oversaturation of imagery, which means that it's harder for any one particular image to stand out, especially since the Internet has splintered mass media and culture. That and, with the 24 hour news cycle, we're also oversaturated with tragedies, all of which are worthy of airtime, but the constant bombardment, I think, leads to a desensitization. Essentially, we (collectively) become numb to the horrors of the world with overexposure. So I think both that overexposure to horror and the oversaturation of imagery means that it's harder for a photograph to change people's minds in the 21st century.
My question to the author? Why were the Democrats quiet on the freeing of the Merchant of death by President Joe Biden? Seems like crime increased since the above democrat freed a notorious Arms Dealer. What about the war in Ukraine and Sudan and the deaths there by our own government. Mass shooting is awful but the violence in the entire world is too.
Thank you for writing an article that all appreciate and cannot ignore anymore.
Of course imagery changes minds and changes the course of history. The problem is that more often than not the left has been picking the photos. Hence, everyone knows the terrible photo above - not much is in the collective mind about the horrors committed by the Vietkong.
This has been the case at least since the propaganda staged and hand selected by FDR’s professional “influencers”. And it continues to this day where Jan 6 imagery is hand selected and edited - while CNN reporters stand in front of burning buildings set ablaze by Antifa and BLM claiming a “mostly peaceful protest”.
So yes, the cliches have been used over and over again and moved our society to the edge of disintegration. The “peace movement” has led to America losing every single war since WW2. Think about it. The image of the Iraq war is Abu Garaib - and not the atrocities of Shia and Sunni committed against other on a rolling basis.
Anything that hurts America and Western values seems to be fair game.