Don't prevent us from having a choice! Readers criticize those who attacked Salon's decision to post the video of Nick Berg's death.

By Salon Staff

Published May 14, 2004 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the original story and the letters published in response.]

I just finished reading the other letters submitted in response to Salon's posting of a link to the video of Nick Berg's beheading. I am completely confused by the majority of the reactions complaining about your decision allow subscribers the choice of whether or not they wanted to see it for themselves.

There are so few opportunities anymore where people need to honestly reflect on real, immediate and important issues. How often do we meditate on the ethics of our personal choices, to click or not to click? Years from now will that be the defining question -- "Where were you when we landed on the moon?" replaced by, "Did you click? Did you watch?"

The debate over the world's right to know what happened vs. the families' right to grieve and respect their dead is complex, but rarely do we as individuals get a vote. We watch the discussions and maybe share our opinions over the water cooler, but that's the end of it.

No matter what decision I or anyone else makes, I know that in the process we will have learned something about ourselves. And I am grateful that Salon knows that we are adults and can be trusted to make our own choices and live with the consequences.

-- Jacqueline Cain

To those who castigate you for the video clip, I say, "You knew it was a beheading so why did you watch it?" I couldn't stomach it and clicked it off. There is something perverse in watching something abhorrent to you and then complaining after watching it on purpose. Hel-lo-o. Something else is going on here that has nothing to do with Salon.

-- Donald Carl Isenman

I fail to understand the complaints of those making the specific effort to look at that video. What did they expect a beheading to look like? Being of the generation who remembers the Vietnam War closeup shooting of the Vietnamese man and the spattering brain, I chose not to look at it. I prefer also not to look at Holocaust or Holocaust images, but I am glad there is a press that presents the unpleasant as well as the pleasant, the realities as well as the hype.

As for the video: It's on the Web; Salon provided a link to an ugly event that was available to anyone who searched; so, kill the messenger? Undoubtedly it is very disturbing -- why would anyone choose to look at such a thing, except to realize the horrors of this and probably any military engagement (or, perhaps, be confirmed in one's hatred of the masked other)? As a Salon subscriber, I thank you -- I am glad there is a choice.

And that's what it is: people chose to look at the "unspeakably gruesome" video despite that clear warning, and then complained. How whiningly self-indulgent.

-- Betsy R. Cramer

As I read the letters debating the appropriateness of Salon's decision to post the Nick Berg video, the answer became clear to me: The justification lies in the letters themselves.

Whether expressing outrage or support, these letters represent a major turn in this "war on terror." Until now, opposition to the war in Iraq has been dominated by fringe liberals with words as their only ammunition to combat the perceived injustices. As a person who works with words every day, I understand how easy it is to get lost in words, to lose interest and fade out. The majority of Americans have done just that with the war coverage, turning a blind eye to the words.

However, the events of the past month have severely disrupted the status quo. With the first photos of the soldiers' coffins, the photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and now the video of Nick Berg's beheading, America has finally been forced to open its eyes and confront the true reality of this conflict. To read about the beheading of an innocent civilian causes one to shake their head in despair. To view the beheading of an innocent civilian causes one's stomach to tighten and eyes to tear. Viewing the images is the only way to experience a visceral response to the war.

In the end, some will choose to view these images; others won't. Of those who watch, some will do so for titillation, others to be fully informed. Regardless of the reason, most will feel anger and horror. In turn, some will direct this anger toward the organization that allowed them to see the image.

However, I laud Salon for allowing us to make the decision for ourselves on whether or not we should view the video. In addition, I am glad that so many people disagree on this issue. Because in the core of the debate lies incredible opportunity. An opportunity that we have seldom had with this war or any other war in our history. We can read only what the administration's publicity machine wants us to read, or we can open our eyes to that which is horrifying and real. I suggest we open our eyes.

-- Adrianne Brigido

Please take it off your site. An editor's choice not to promulgate the politics and barbarism of a terrorist is responsible, not censorship or pandering to an audience. Just to read the account is disturbing and saddening enough. This is not a harsh image of war responsibly shown to a society as a reminder that we understand. No, it is the excrement of our darkest corridors [to which] I believe [we] should pay no heed. Please respect Nick Berg and his family and keep private the most gruesome and horrific fates.

-- George Bolanis

A recent letter writer wondered what posting the actual video of Nick Berg's murder would provide the reader beyond the word "beheading." I feel strongly that the mere words "beheading" or "decapitation" do not describe what happens on the tape.

The meaning of a word is provided, in large part, by the word's historical usage. Having read in history books about the French Revolution, most Americans might envision Berg's death to be as swift and relatively painless as one provided by the guillotine. And anyone who had recently seen one of the "Kill Bill" movies might even picture a scene of cartoonish dimension.

These sanitized versions have no connection to the reality of the crime depicted in the video. Berg is hacked to death as he screams in agony -- first one side of his head, then another.

Though I do not think that every American needs to view the actual video, I am certain that merely describing the act as a "beheading" is as wholly insufficient as if the 9/11 press had told viewers that some planes crashed into the WTC and the WTC fell down.

Any journalistic enterprise that decides not to air the video is doing a disservice to the American public by merely relying on the inaccurate word "beheading." As far as I know, the only mainstream journalist that reported the true savagery and brutality of the crime was Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.

My problem with Salon's decision to air the video is not that they should have given me the sanitized version like the rest of the inept American media, but that it was a cop-out. They could have provided a fair alternative by printing a report that accurately describes the event, but instead they avoided their duties as journalists by relying on the video itself.

-- Sean McGuire

I fail to understand the backlash against Salon's decision to post the video of Nick Berg's death. No one complained about photographs showing the torture and humiliation at Abu Ghraib, nor the bruised and broken corpses. When the World Trade Center was crumbling, no one complained about the video coverage. What happened that day is no less relevant to our daily lives than the horrors featured on that now infamous tape. I feel that Salon did the only responsible thing in the face of such terrible news: post the truth and allow those who wished to confront it to do so.

For those who were satisfied to read about the grisly details, there was no harm done by the presence of the tape online. The people in this country are much too content to mediate their experiences through reportage; I much prefer to be given the choice and draw my own conclusions.

I couldn't even describe how that tape affected me, but I hope that those who choose not to view it will still realize the price being paid for what has been done in our name. I will have Nick Berg's screams echoing in my head for the rest of my life to remind me.

-- Marleigh Riggins

I would like to add my voice to those supporting Salon's decision to post the Nick Berg video clip. I was extremely grateful that you treated your readers as mature adults. The Internet articles which did not link to the video frustrated me. We already have enough mainstream news outlets suppressing important information and images; how deep into the intricacies of the Web should I have to go to get access to what everyone is talking about?

You made the information accessible, but you still buried the link, it was impossible to watch that video by accident, and anyone who watched it made a conscious decision to do so. I am surprised by the amount of criticism you received -- please ignore it; it is quite misguided. There are plenty of people in this world who see bloodshed in the flesh every day and our condemnation should be saved for the perpetrators of the violence, not those who report the truth. I, for one, am sick of those in this country who insist on living in a fairy tale. If you want to be treated like a child there are hundreds of other Internet news sites who are perfectly happy to do that.

-- Emily Benson

I made the mistake of watching the Daniel Pearl execution video a few years ago. It haunts me to this day. It forced me to acknowledge horrible truths about humanity and about myself. I cannot fully answer the larger questions about mankind's inhumanity to fellow human beings. I can answer the questions about myself. I was ashamed for having watched it. I clicked a hyperlink, that's the only action involved. However as I was watching it, and not believing what I was seeing, it was as if I drove myself into hell. I cannot blame those who simply provided me with a roadmap and sufficient warnings about where I was going.

I wish that I never had watched that video. I made a very bad choice and that choice was mine to make -- no one forced me to see it. I harbored no anger for those who published it. Those who take issue with Salon for posting Nick Berg's tragic final moments are simply deflecting their own guilt for having made a similarly bad choice. What did you think you would see, exactly? You already know that there are no absurd Hollywood last-minute rescues or happy endings to this very very very sad story.

I am, unfortunately, fairly confident that there are no limits to human beings' capacity for cruelty. I felt no need to burn any more horrific images in my mind and carry them with me. I know my own limits as well. I chose not to view the video.

-- Christina Szejk

I did not have the slightest desire to watch the video and can't imagine that changing. A vivid description is enough, and I would get no vicarious thrill out of actually seeing it.

However, I support you wholeheartedly for giving readers the choice. One of the biggest problems with the Bush administration is that they do not trust the public to make their own decisions. They say "trust us" and seek to hide as much as possible from the very people who elected them (well, you know what I mean).

And with good reason. They know that the more information we receive about their activities, the less we'll trust them. Or want them around. Or not imprison them.

So thank you, Salon, for not patronizing us the way the president* continually does, and leaving the decision to each reader.

-- Adam Rettberg

Thank you for making all the images of the horror in Iraq available. I did not choose to watch the video of Nicholas Berg's beheading, but I am glad it was my choice and not someone else's.

If our current regime had its way, all we'd see of Iraq would be Marines surrounded by laughing children and soldiers helping to plant flowers. I am sure Americans have done many selfless acts. They deserve far better than the leaders who are putting them in harm's way.

-- Issai Chizen

I am an avid reader of your Web site. I read it every day and tell all my friends to read it. Your decision to show the murder of Nick Berg was wrong. If that was my brother who was horrendously murdered and it was on tape, I would be horrified to know that thousands of people were watching it over and over for the gross-out factor, or for curiosity. I would want his last moment to be as private as this situation allows it to be, not used as antiwar fodder. He deserves more respect than that. Showing that video will not stop the war, nor will it make the war more real. All the dead soldiers coming home do that just fine, thanks.

-- Jennifer Irving

Part of living in a free society is the ability of people to make their own decisions about what they should and should not read or view. In the case of Nick Berg's gruesome murder, Salon provided its readership with the option to view or not to view the video. The video was clearly labeled as exactly what it was, and I am appalled and disappointed by the number of Salon's readers who, after choosing to see the video, would like to deny others that same choice.

-- Kimberlee Chestnut Chang

I have been a premium subscriber for three years and have given away perhaps six or seven gift subscriptions, in gratitude for keeping me sane and informed since our country entered this dark age of the W presidency.

Thank you for giving me access to the video of Nick Berg's murder. I could not bring myself to watch it. Radio, television and print accounts of the horror were more than enough to keep me awake for the past two days. I sat and stared at the link to the video itself, on your Web site, for about 10 minutes. I made a rational, adult decision not to watch it. However, my decision not to watch the video should never preclude someone else from watching it.

A truly free society allows its citizens to judge what information to assimilate and what to avoid. A responsible press leaves those personal decisions to its readers. Once the press starts trying to predict the public's sensibilities, our government will use it to control us (as it already has). Without courageous voices, like Salon, this country is lost.

To those who write to condemn your posting the video, I have to ask -- you had every opportunity to avoid watching the video, as I did. Why didn't you take it?

-- Jeffrey Lamkin

Like many who've written in, I also clicked on the links, quickly past the disclaimers, to see this intriguing snapshot of a horrific act. The most horrific part of the video may well have been the beheading itself, the awful scream I'm told Mr. Berg made just before the end. I wouldn't know, because I didn't get that far.

The video was an astonishing, heartbreaking five minutes long. After about a minute of watching him sit on the floor, just the knowledge that he was going to die was too much for me. I couldn't stop myself from crying. I tried skipping ahead to just get it over with, get the visual confirmation of the act, but couldn't even bear to see that. I came back to the video again later in the day and still couldn't get past that frightening confusion. If I was incapable of lasting five minutes under psychological torture, then I can only have the most tremendous respect for those who, like Nick, have gone through so much more.

There are many who suggest this video should not have been made available to the public. If even one more person had the same gut-wrenching response I did, I'd say that's worth it.

-- Chris Schneider

At a time when most media are busy covering war's realities, you have been bold enough to say this won't make the horrors go away. Kudos to you and your team for letting the message sink in.

-- Zunaira Durrani

I didn't watch the video posted on your site; I understood and followed the warnings, as I believe adults can and should do. I have no objection to your having posted it, and accept that the decision to watch or not is mine to make.

But can you not call it "The Nick Berg Video" in headlines, subtitles and other texts? It's not a multimedia entertainment event, it's not an MTV release. It's a murder, recorded on video. It's not even Berg's video. It's the production and property of his killers. Words are important; don't fall prey to stupid euphemisms and silly shortcuts.

-- Beth Blankenship

You people are seriously fucked up for trying to profit from this beheading video. Karma will take care of you.

-- Jeremy Gould

The letters in response to the article/video of Berg's demise affirmed my decision to allow my 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son to view his execution. We were able to discuss it, and [did] a cursory deconstruction of the accompanying text, which led us to conclude that Mr. Berg's presence in a volatile war zone was motivated in part by profit. As parents and teachers, we want our children to understand the value and potency of choice. Above all, our children are learning to see the big picture, understand and embrace "difference," and respect the value and dignity of life and property, no matter what the "others'" orientation.

P.S. Robert Mulcahy's personal reflection affirms that my thoughts since 9/11 are not an isolated case of paranoia.

-- Ed Luna

I haven't seen the video of the man being beheaded, and I have no interest in doing so. I don't need to see a gruesome video in order to know the realities of the war. I'm a grown-up, thank you.

However, when I read that Salon had published the video directly on Salon.com, my response was a long sigh.

I used to be a big supporter of Salon, as at one time it was a unique publication with an interesting editorial mix.

At some point Salon turned itself into a party-line Democratic rag. I'm pretty liberal, but having the opposing view available made Salon both more interesting and more honest at the same time. I used to click on Salon once or twice a day. When you changed your format in this regard I found myself reading Salon once a week or less. Maybe it was boredom; maybe I figured I already knew what the articles were going to say before I read them.

The publishing of the video is the final blow to a publication that once had something interesting to offer. Any teenager with a Web server could publish this video on the Internet and nobody would care -- so spare me the "Salon is on the cutting edge of the First Amendment" crap. This is just tabloid journalism: Salon trying something, anything, just to get more hits on their Web site. In the article Salon could have written, "out of respect to the family, we won't publish the video here but if you really want to see it, it's all over the Internet." Instead you took the low road. Have fun getting your subscription fees out of the lowest common denominator.

I'm going to cancel my subscription now. I probably would have left the subscription in place for a long time had this video not been published (in hope that Salon would get interesting again), but this prompted me to act now.

Please thank the former editors and former writers of Salon for me, for a job well done.

-- Steve Thomas

Salon Staff

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