Letters

An eloquent mixture of disgust and respect: Readers respond to Salon's posting of the Nick Berg video.


Salon Staff
May 13, 2004 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

In a supposedly free society with an independent press, it is offensive that most of our media outlets would take it upon themselves to deny us the right (if not the obligation) to see the Nick Berg video. As an adult, I don't need others deciding what's too intense for me or filtering information. Watching the video is not entertaining. It does, however, confront one with the reality of our involvement in Iraq and those who would strike back at us much more powerfully than mere descriptions. If anyone needs to be reminded of the power of the image, ask Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, who seemed oblivious to the growing prisoner-abuse scandal until the pictures came to light. It is also tragically ironic for Nick Berg that one seemed to spawn the other.

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In this mediated age, pictures and video are central to communicating the whole story. Salon, at least, gave me the option to witness this horrific event and draw from it my own meaning.

-- Don Howe

I am absolutely disgusted by Salon's decision to post the video of Nicholas Berg's beheading. There have already been plenty of "blow by blow" descriptions of this heinous act. What does a reader gain by actually viewing the execution? Is it really allowing us to "confront the reality of war" or does it simply satisfy the prurient interests that draw viewers to any other "snuff film"? What dignity and respect remain for Nick Berg and his family? The justification in Farhad Manjoo's article, "Horror Show": "... because when you dare to watch his murder you sense how frightened he is, and you admire how calm he is, you feel as if you know Nick Berg intimately, that you've perhaps known him your whole life," seems empty to me. Are we so jaded by the constant barrage of violent media that we can't extract these impressions for a detailed written account? Do we have to witness a murder now, to feel sympathy for the victim? Do we have to actually see someone's calm in the face of five attackers in order to admire their strength and courage?

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There has to be a line somewhere. I agree that images can be profoundly moving, and can be a powerful aid in understanding the human impact of war and the nature of crimes of war: rows of flag-draped coffins, bomb-scarred Iraqi children, grinning soldiers posing for a trophy shot of the humiliation of their captives. Taking it to the point of showing the very moment of death, broadcasting the final scream of a murdered man, goes too far into the realm of poor taste and insensitivity.

Broadcasting the murderers' violent message by posting their video only perpetuates their suffering of Nick Berg and his family and represents a new low in Salon.com's editorial standards.

-- Kristen Gallagher

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Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your in-depth coverage of this terrible war. The text and images you present are very difficult to absorb but I feel I have a better understanding of "what's going on" through your publication and your writers.

-- Philip Morrow

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I am curious as to what you hoped to accomplish by having the "unspeakably gruesome" video (to use your words) of Nick Berg's horrifying death on this site. Does anyone in the world not understand what "beheading" means? Can a verbal description not suffice to tell the story of what happened to this young man? I do not frequent your site but someone told me you had this video available. I could not believe it. I find it disturbing that anyone would want to view that video in that it could only be to serve an odd curiosity.

Was your point to make people more angry? Is it to horrify them? Both? If so, to what purpose? Sign up to fight the war? Decide to vote the president out of office? Visit your site more often for other horrifying images? Buy your sponsor's products? What exactly did you hope to accomplish?

I think you should be ashamed and should apologize to the friends and family during this time of deep mourning and confusion as to what has happened to them.

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Please stick to reporting the news, make your editorial comments but know when to draw the line and respect the fallen.

-- Mark Lackey

Please take down the video showing the American kid being decapitated. It's too horrible. I watched it this morning, thinking that if Salon is willing to show the clip, it must not be that horrible. (I ignored the warning as I ignore similar disclaimers on TV.) I haven't been able to get these images out of my head since I saw it.

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-- Bob Bringhurst

Coincidentally, just before I read Farhad Manjoo's latest article, "Horror Show," my husband was pointing out to me the top searches list on MSN.com. For months on end, it has been the usual drivel; the week after the Super Bowl, the top five searches were something like Janet Jackson Super Bowl; Janet Jackson halftime show; Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime, Janet Jackson breast; and Janet Jackson Super Bowl breast." And for months on end, we've been bemoaning the complacency of the American public; why aren't they searching for Fallujah, Taguba, something -- anything -- that resembles an interest in something other than celebrity scandal?

Today the top searches include Iraqi Prisoner Photos and Abu Ghraib. He commented that it seems like the tide is finally turning; people are finally interested. Perhaps, I said. Hopefully, I said. But the only thing that's changed, the only thing we can be sure of, is that there are finally pictures. Does the average searcher on MSN make a distinction between searching for pictures of Janet Jackson's breast and searching for pictures of Iraqis being tortured? Is it just more of a titillating sameness, or are people really starting to pay attention, now that they have something almost unavoidable to pay attention to? I hope it's the latter.

-- Melissa McEwan

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Just finished Farhad Manjoo's "Horror Show," and despite its content (I couldn't bring myself to link to the video of Berg's murder. It's just too much.) it actually made me feel better about what's going on in Iraq than I have since the beginning. I had never considered the effect of digital photography on this war or in many other contexts that are now becoming more clear. I have often equated the Bush administration to Big Brother, but now wonder if it's possible for them to have the type of control they'd like with all those cameras out there.

The same technology that makes some of us worry about our privacy had better make the secretive neocons quake in their boots. Maybe they won't be able to hide their deceits and try to cover them with Newspeak when there are actual photos from the war zone floating around the Internet. Maybe the one thing these middle aged white men didn't count on while plotting to take over our country was the pesky new technology that they likely know little about and understand even less. Maybe Nick Berg didn't die for nothing after all.

-- Karen Paolini

I'm not certain whether I want to thank you for posting a link to this video or not. I have been in shock since I watched it. It helps to remind me that al-Qaida is still a threat, and that the Bush administration's disastrous handling of Afghanistan and Iraq hasn't made us safer.

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And how does it reflect on the public trust in our current administration that one of the first thoughts I had after watching this video was "I wonder if they are Zarqawi terrorists, or our own CIA agents starting a meme in support of an indefensible war."

-- Robert Mulcahy

There are times, which sadly have become rarer and rarer, in which the dignity of a human life and their death is more important than my right to see something. Salon had a choice to make, by hosting this video, they became what they have opposed. Welcome to the world of Rupert Murdoch.

-- Philip Powell

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First off, I enjoy Salon.com and value your news and perspective very much. I read Salon every morning and feel it's a vital part of keeping myself informed about the world around me.

However, I was very disturbed by your decision to post the video of Nick Berg being executed and am trying to understand your decision. Yes, I am appalled by the sanitized version of the war Americans receive and feel our leaders and our press core have failed us. However, this, to me, was beyond decency. I watched the video up to the point where the terrorist, and in this case the insurgent is a terrorist, pulled out his knife and then had to close the screen. In all sincerity, what was gained by posting this?

I understand that people are free to turn away or not download the video in the first place, but I'm wondering if this really was appropriate. Since I really do value Salon and since I'm very disturbed, (I probably won't sleep much tonight) I just want to know why you posted this. What do you feel is gained by showing this horrific display of humanity? What were the pros and cons? Please help me understand the decision process. I'm sure many more readers have the same questions I do.

-- Michael Scott

I've spent the last hour in tears after watching your posting of Nick Berg's beheading. Sobbing. Bawling, really. Asking myself what more will hate and violence beget until we, humanity, poison the world with the wreckage of our own fear.

And before you dismiss my e-mail as irrational ... I want to thank you at Salon. I've blanket e-mailed your staff because i think you as a community of news professionals need to know what a service you've done by arming your public with truth.

The video is horrific. It's chilling. It's more than difficult to sit through. And it is absolutely necessary.

In our time of rhetorical excess and sanitized spin spun so fast we all get dizzy,. Honest and forthright journalism such as your publication performs is vital to staying the course of our human responsibilities to one another on this planet.

As it appears no other media outlet I know of has chosen to display this particular record of war and its consequences, I can only assume that there was a significant discussion among your staff members regarding the direction you would take on this matter. I would also assume there were concerns about negative reactions, objections by individuals who did not agree with the decision, and a lot of soul wrenching and wrestling with the decision to post or not to post. And I can only imagine the flak you will receive from members of the public who are frightened to confront their own relationship with the world as it is: here and now.

I've spent most of the past three years sitting on the fence always wondering when I would finally commit to subscribing to your magazine. I should have three years ago. I read you every day. You're one of my pit stops for trying to achieve clarity through the din of our current media morass. Whenever you publish a compelling article I always e-mail all of my friends the link.

But today I really understand the importance of your coverage and not just the pleasure.

-- Jonathan M. Mueller


Salon Staff

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