Osama bin Laden death photo debate continues

If they are leaked, should media show them?

TAMPA, Fla. - President Barack Obama says he will not release death photos of terrorist Osama Bin Laden because, he says, there is no need to "spike the football."

But if history is any guide, photos may one day be leaked, forcing news organizations to make a tough decision.

From Jesse James, shot in the back of the head by a turncoat gang member, to Bonnie and Clyde, ventilated in a hail of bullets by police in Louisiana, America has a long tradition of documenting the downfall of outlaws.

Now that we know pictures of the slain terrorist exist, some are calling for their immediate release.

"The photos have to be released to make sure we get rid of any conspiracy theorists who think we didn't take care of bin Laden," said Nevada Representative Joe Heck.

And though the White House indicated it would not release pictures that have been described as particularly gruesome, the president can always change his mind. And photos have a way of being leaked.

"Shocking photographs sometimes reveal great truths," says journalistic ethics teacher Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute.

Tompkins says news providers need to decide if the pictures add to the public's understanding of the news event.

Gratuitous display of bloody images, says Tompkins, is not in the public interest, though there are times when incontrovertible proof is helpful.

Tompkins points to graphic images of Saddam Hussein and his two sons that were widely shown on Al Jazeera and other news outlets.

"The Iraqis were not prepared to believe that Hussein was actually gone and there were propaganda reasons to release those images because the American government believed that by releasing those images, the Iraqis would be more likely to cooperate with the United States.

Ahmed Bedier of Tampa's Council on American Islamic Relations worries that graphic pictures may build sympathy for the terrorist and are not really necessary in this case.

"There are conspiracy theorists everywhere. Some people think Elvis is still alive. Unless Elvis appears or bin Laden reappears, people will eventually believe he is dead," says Bedier.

Print this article Back to Top