When To Put The Camera Down

Friday, June 15, 2012


On May 27th a Pentecostal pastor who handles poisonous snakes as part of his religious tradition was bitten, and in the absence of any medical attention, he died.  One of those who witnessed his death and decided not to call for help was Lauren Pond, a photojournalist who had been documenting Wolford for over a year.  Bob talks to Pond about where journalistic responsibility and respect collides.


Four Tet - 128 Harps


Lauren Pond

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [19]

Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

On the question of whether to intervene or not, this is how I see it:

In the UK (and I'd be very surprised if it wasn't the same in the US), a person not only has the right to medical treatment, they have the right not to be treated if they so wish. If:

1) Nobody else is in danger and
2) The person refusing treatment is legally competent,

then I would be trampling on the rights of that person if I decided to override their wishes.

That's not to say that an outside observer shouldn't do anything. I think it's fair to offer to intervene but that is only if you are willing to respect the answer you get.

Jun. 19 2012 11:35 AM
John G. Higgins from Tucson, AZ

I listened to the story on On the Media today. I strongly disagree with Ms. Pond's actions and opinion about not asking for help for the snake handler. We are human beings before we are professionals. I cannot give any crediblity or respect to her other professional work due to her decision. Your making good movie/photos appeared more importan than a life. My reaction is based on experience as a student journalist (3 years), social worker/therapist (30 years) incl. with snake handlers in KY and a human being (61 years.)

Jun. 18 2012 06:18 PM

"I gotta tell you, if I'm in your position, I say get out of the way I'm finding the phone, because for me my human responsibility trumps my journalistic responsibility in this set of circumstances."

In this case an adult, surrounded by people who presumably care about him, made a decision about his own life and the way he lived it based on his religious beliefs. Would Bob so readily dump journalistic responsibility if he was watching an infant, surrounded by people who presumably care about him, prepare to remove part of that kid's penis based on their own, not the baby's, religious beliefs?

Snake handling to show one's devotion to a deity is weird and dangerous, but lopping of part of an infant boy's reproductive organ can be pretty weird¹ and dangerous² too.

All the best, etc.,

-- MrJM

¹ http://healthland.time.com/2012/06/07/how-11-new-york-city-babies-contracted-herpes-through-circumcision/
² http://www.mensstudies.com/content/b64n267w47m333x0/?p=488e687276f346699601a0275fc5827b&pi=2

Jun. 18 2012 04:10 PM
Sophia from Manhattan

Art Ruehls and Roger Witherspoon, you both make my point beautifully, thank you.

Abbie from Vermont; I applaud you for not capitulating, and honoring the strength of your convictions publicly.

Regardless of any high-brow, tunnel-visioned (a.k.a., rigid) arguments, I would risk disrespecting someone else's belief system if it appears that they or another person would lose their life as a result of my doing nothing. I will gladly live with being “inexcusably wrong” as long as I know I did all I possible could to try to help prevent the death of another human being. Imposing my "rigid belief system" would be the price I pay to save someone's husband, father, brother, friend, and I'd gladly accept the pious condemnation of others as a badge of honor to save a life. I will accept being corrected for many other things, but being the lone voice in the wilderness is fine with me and my conscience in this case. I love people too much to just watch -- I'd venture to say I'd even try to you help Art and Roger too...

Jun. 18 2012 01:58 PM
Abbie from Vermont

This is my beef with religion. Not just the silly, unfounded beliefs (a peculiar interpretation of a late addition to a fictional biography) but the way we socially demand that everyone play into the delusions. This person died pointlessly- I can't fathom why "respect for religious beliefs" should outweigh "respect to not let a person die pointlessly".

I would have driven to within cell range immediately and called 911 once I realized nobody else was going to do anything. The photojournalist is complicit and should be haunted with guilt for the rest of her life.

Would she let a suicidal man shoot himself in the head, and just stand by to objectively document it? No?? Why not? He made a choice. Why shouldn't she respect it?

Jun. 18 2012 12:09 PM
S Penner

The guest did the right thing, she allowed the "minister" to die as he & his family choose. No one else was harmed. However, the moderator said he would have intervened, who does he think he is g-d? If the victim was a child, it would be a totally different story. Adults have a right to do stupid things to themselves as long as others are not injured. Where will this attitue of I know what is best for you end? Unfortunately it is prevelant in our society. We now have a mayor deciding how large a soft drink can be sold. Yes we should give people a hand when in need but people have a right to do stupid things.

Jun. 17 2012 03:55 PM

This piece was an NPR "driveway moment" for me. Less than six minutes long, it evoked deep thoughts and feelings within me concerning ethical behavior and mutal respect. After the piece I came into our home and shared what I had heard with my wife. We talked for some time about respecting someone's beliefs even if we do not necessarily agree with those beliefs.

I listened to the piece again online and then read Ms. Pond's story. The written piece confirmed what I sensed in the interview. Lauren Pond both understood and respected this man's right to practice his faith. It seemed to me that Mr. Garfield did not understand, whether due to lack of time or familiarity, Mack Wolford's beliefs or Lauren Pond's beliefs. He had an opportunity to respect both but chose instead to give voice to his own beliefs. That is certainly his priviledge but sadly it is too often our response to things we don't understand. We are afraid to show someone respect unless we fully agree with their position.

If the comments posted here teach us anything, it is that we all have closely held beliefs of one kind or another. In as much as those beliefs are ours personally and do no harm to others, we can show each other great love by respecting them.

Where I believe we all go wrong to one degree or another is when we try to impose our beliefs on others or disrespect each other because of these differences. There we violate that greater love.

Lauren Pond, Mack Wolford and Bob Garfield all helped me grow a bit today. I'm grateful.

Jun. 17 2012 02:39 PM

This guy wins either way does he not? According to his belief system he, as a believer, will go to heaven or be healed. Either way he comes out well.....While I personally believe his beliefs are nonsense it is his belief and his choice. For this type of situation, in my mind, personal choice trumps my belief the man is a fool.

Jun. 17 2012 01:58 PM
MD in TN from Tennessee

Mr. Garfield's comment, "I gotta tell you, if I'm in your position, I say get out of the way I'm finding the phone, because for me my human responsibility trumps my journalistic responsibility in this set of circumstances," is not unlike Mark Wahlberg's comment regarding United Flight 93. Good job, Bob, too bad you weren't there.

The pastor was an adult with religious convictions and the capacity to make his own choice regarding medical assistance, just as, for example, an adult Jehovah Witness may refuse to receive blood products despite life-saving benefit. Medical intervention without the pastor's consent would be no different from assault.

Jun. 17 2012 12:55 PM
art ruehls

Right on, Roger Witherspoon!

Jun. 17 2012 12:50 PM
art ruehls from Las Vegas

How obnoxious the interviewer was, with his holier-than-thou comment at the end. (essentially, "I'm better than you, but, here, I'll give you a chance to redeem yourself by saying you did the wrong thing, which I, of course, would not have done...")

IRONIC that this supposed media-oriented interviewer didn't bother to ask himself or his subject about the effects of a church allowing some outsider in who then would see fit to crap on their basic beliefs, as he would have. How many journalists do you think would ever be able to come back to record their reality?

Young lady, I envy you your job and your good instinct. You had no place disrupting the practice, and you did the right thing. That, to me, would be like the police forcing me into a hospital when I want to die at home.

Don't allow a sanctimonious interviewer to question yourself. You handled his sanctimony well, by the way.

Jun. 17 2012 12:46 PM
Ken Altes from Austin, Texas

Bob Garfield interviewed a reporter, Lauren Pond, concerning a classic professional and moral dilemma sometimes faced by reporters in the field: to intervene when the safety of a subject is in jeopardy.

The interview was thorough and allowed the reporter to state her feelings on this dilemma during and after the incident concerning what she should have done (she finally resolved that she felt she had done the correct thing).

Mr. Garfield, at the wrap up, opined to the reporter and the radio/podcast audiences, that he would have called for medical help at some point when the subject was ill.

Mr Garfield ended the interview with, "I gotta tell you, if I'm in your position, I say get out of the way I'm finding the phone, because for me my human responsibility trumps my journalistic responsibility in this set of circumstances." This last, gratuitous, statement was offensive and a sucker punch.

- was Mr. Garfield saying, without time for a response during the interview, that the reporter had been cruel, or unethical, or, further, somehow contributed to a death and partially responsible?

- the concept of this show, as I understand it, is to highlight the difficulties and dilemmas facing reporters, abuse of the media, etc., not an arrogant, moralizing personality-driven show with an answer for every difficult question.

- Mr. Garfield seemingly took advantage of the power of his microphone, not allowing any response to his last minute moralizing that amounted to charging a moral lapse, at best.

- Mr. Garfield' commentary had the feeling of condescension; from a more experienced professional to a younger one, and from a male to a female,

- has Mr. Garfield been in an analogous situation where Mr. Garfield was reporting in the field that became dangerous to a subject, and then stepped out of his role as a reporter to aid the subject? If not, then his position is a pose.

- Ms. Pond said she would have called for help, and had carefully evaluated the moral questions, if the subject was an uninvolved victim, but pointed out that there were others there, including his family, and the subject himself didn't want help,

- the simplest rebuttal to Mr. Garfield's moral swagger, "I gotta tell you, if I'm in your position, I say get out of the way I'm finding the phone...." is that Ms. Ponds had just told him that there was no phone service that that location.

This technique of introducing at the last moment in an interview the interviewer's summation without the interviewee being able to respond is one well used by talk show hosts, and thrusts the focus of the program on the moralizing host, taking focus away from the subject.

Mr. Garfield, cura te ipsum.

Jun. 17 2012 12:26 PM
Roger Witherspoon from Cortlandt Manor, NY

As a journalist who has frequently dealt with right to die issues,( http://rogerwitherspoon.com/pdfs/comment/babiesdyinginthecorner.pdf ) and a human being who has had to make life and death choices I couldn't disagree more with your theocratic, arrogant,self-righteous declaration that you would have imposed your rigid belief system on a religious leader, his family, and his entire congregation. This was not a Jerry Sandusky, or Jonestown moment where an adult was inflicting pain or death on a child and intervention to protect the helpless is justifiable. But for you to intervene in a decision of a man deciding how he would meet his God is disgraceful on human terms and as much a betrayal of journalistic ethics as turning over off-the-record data to the police. In this case you are inexcusably wrong.

Jun. 17 2012 11:04 AM
Sophia from Manhattan

This woman's behavior and lack or reaction is what gives journalists the reputation of being bottom feeders -- in her case she's a militant journalistic purist. If she were following human trafficking and witnessed a toddler being forced into a sex act, or a group of religious zealots sacrificing a kitten, would not intervening be applauded then? Could it be that on some level the judgment was made that this deluded preacher got what he deserved? We need to look in the mirror.

Common decency should prevail whether the life is that of a practitioner of a belief system we agree with or not, or we need to remove the "civil" prefix from the word civilization when referring to our modern, evolved, society.

Jun. 17 2012 11:00 AM
Stella from Manhattan

Bob Garfield's discussion with Lauren Pond reinforced my deep respect for his humanity and skill as a journalist.
Bob's interviews are invaluable: he is always respectful towards his subject and always provides much-needed context. Bravo, Bob.

Jun. 17 2012 10:50 AM
Tom Strand from Sebastopol, CA

I found Bob Garfield's final (paraphrased) "but I would have dropped my journalistic mantel and called for help" to be simplistic. It makes me wary of the "journalistic" standards by which he crosses the boundary between witness/reporter and human/intervenor.


Bob seemed to ignore the report that this man had built a life around these beliefs. Though one may argue that religion is the "opiate of the masses", the minister was not under the influence of a temporal drug or millennial delusion. He opted to die with meaning in a tautological story that is impervious to "news" standards intervention.


I am personally actively anti-religion, anti-apocolyptic, anti-faith-based hope. I expect we will one day find a tiny part of the brain that when active stimulates this type of belief.

But this minister's belief's were not episodic. They were life-long held.

What I fear in Bob's simplistic challenge is its logical endpoint: Intervene at all cost for end-of-life heroics. Intervene against self-immolation as a vehicle for protest. As human I would be torn on my action. As journalist, once assessing that drugs or other duress were not proximate, let a person die with some meaning in their own framework.

I agree that the religious impulse is drug-like in effect. But this minister had passed the test that this was not a transitory belief that your journalistic wisdom should block.

Jun. 16 2012 05:39 PM

Mack invited Lauren to attend this service. He sought publicity, knowing full well what fate might await him in the practice of his faith. Divine anointment is reserved for those who sit in judgment of others.

Jun. 16 2012 05:39 PM
Bill Harris

I remind Ms. Pond that photo-journalist is a job title, not a divine anointment. I wonder which of her photographs she thinks is worth Pastor Wolford's life?

Bill Harris

Jun. 16 2012 10:53 AM

She did the right thing. It's not her place to inject herself into a story when it reaches a predictable, though shocking, conclusion.

Jun. 16 2012 03:52 AM

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