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Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11 Case Study

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Updated: Mar 22nd, 2021

Introduction

Media is important to society as it is one of the main information sources. In the course of playing its role, the media faces some challenges. The main challenges faced by the media relate to ethics. Therefore, stakeholders have formulated media ethics to act as a guide. Philosophers have proposed various models such as moral reasoning and potter box models among others in order to ensure the correct implementation of media ethics (Patterson and Wilkins, 2007). Individuals in the media should engage in moral reasoning as it is important in the passing of content. This paper analyzes a case study, visualizing September 11, which rose concerns regarding the ethics of the media.

Facts of the Case

Visualizing September 11th
Figure 1: Visualizing September 11th.

Richard Drew’s photograph, Visualizing September 11, captures an event that occurred during the New York terror attack on September 11, 2001 (Mayer, 2011). This picture shows a man who is falling down straight from the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center building after two planes hit the building. The man is among hundreds who either fell or jumped from the building in order to escape the fire that was spreading across the tower. Drew’s photograph became famous and appeared in newspapers in New York (Stern, 2011). Drew’s picture adheres to journalistic values of truth-telling and the public’s right to know.

How the case was resolved

However, this single and most important picture of this century became controversial after a woman called claiming that the subject in the photograph was her brother. Additionally, a section of people who based their argument on the social and cultural impact of the photograph complained that the image was quite disturbing (Mutlu, 2010). This led to individuals considering the photograph unethical. Consequently, the media brought down the photograph that had become the headline of most print and visual media such as The New York Times.

Alternative Outcome for the Case

We can consider Richard’s photograph ethical. This is because it adheres to several media principles and values, which are open-ended information transfer, truthful episode recall, and specific representation of what took place. Moreover, whatever the photograph shows is real. Drew exercised his journalistic rights and duties when doing his work. His work proves that he considered media ethics values of truth-telling, the public’s right to know, legal and religious values. Additionally, he showed loyalty to his company, clients, art, society, colleagues, and himself by presenting a truthful photograph. Further, his work accommodates the principle of egalitarianism and the mean principle (Day, 2005).

The outcome of the case would have been different if the media had considered other principles of media ethics. For example, if the participants had considered the loyalty of the photographer to the firm, himself, and society, the results would have been different. They should have considered values such as truth-telling and the public’s right to know. The principle of media ethics that proves that media was wrong is Rawl’s principle, the veil of ignorance (Christians et al., n.d). If the media had considered these factors, maybe the picture would still be the symbol of the tragic event of September 11, 2001.

Assessment of the Case Outcome

Following the numerous complaints from clients and societies concerning Richard Drew’s photograph, the media ceased using the photograph. The participants pulled down this photograph based on their moral reasoning. According to the media ethics principles such as the utilitarianism and Mean principle, it is possible to see why the media had to stop the use of the photograph. Mill’s principle of utility contends that media have to accommodate happiness for the greatest number while Aristotle’s mean principle focuses on practical wisdom. This case was ambiguous and complicated. Therefore, the media had to make the best decision. The facts show that the media considered their loyalty to their clients and stopped showing the picture. Further, they considered legal, religious, and balance values.

However, the media did not consider all parties, principles, and values when pulling down the photograph. In addition, they did not consider the values of truth-telling, personal values, fairness, and freedom-based values (Plaisance, 2008). Media sidelined the importance of telling the truth regardless of how ugly it might appear. Further, the media made it seem as if the photographer did not have the freedom to narrate the story from his own point of view. Media stepped on their ethics when they failed to prove loyalty to their clients, supporters, subscribers, profession, and society by not perform their duties of telling the truth.

If I were in charge, I would have taken a different approach. First, I would have considered all the stakeholders and their needs. People who invest in the paper and now have a direct link to the amounts sold and people involved. The popularity and reputation of the newspaper and episode coverage dictate demand, prices, and profits. I would have accommodated the rights and duties of the photographer while still assessing the needs of the society which deserves the truth. Therefore, I would have ensured that the media did not use the photograph as the main image of the 9/11 attacks but as one of the many images.

It should not represent the event but add to the details and specify the conditions. I would not have pulled down the photograph entirely in order to be fair to the journalist and to the media. This would have ensured that I had accommodated the rights of media, clients, society, and other stakeholders while still adhering to media ethics.

References

Christians, C., Fackler, M., Rotzoll, K., and McKee, K. (n.d). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning. New York: Longman.

Day, L. (2005). Ethics in Media Communications: Cases and Controversies (5th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Mayer, L. (2011). Photographer Richard Drew Remembers ‘The Falling Man’. Web.

Mutlu, C. (2010). The Falling Man: Affect, Images and Securitization Theory. Web.

Patterson, P. and Wilkins, L. (2007). Media Ethics: Issues and Cases (6th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Plaisance, P. (2008). Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice. London: Sage.

Stern, M. (2011). 9/11’s Iconic ‘Falling Man’. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, March 22). Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/richard-drews-photography-visualizing-september-11/

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"Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11." IvyPanda, 22 Mar. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/richard-drews-photography-visualizing-september-11/.

1. IvyPanda. "Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11." March 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/richard-drews-photography-visualizing-september-11/.


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IvyPanda. "Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11." March 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/richard-drews-photography-visualizing-september-11/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11." March 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/richard-drews-photography-visualizing-september-11/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Richard Drew’s Photography: Visualizing September 11'. 22 March.

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