Thursday, October 20, 2011
Moammar Gadhafi is dead, and there are pictures to prove it. Gruesome video and photographs of the Libyan dictator’s body being dragged through the streets have emerged and spread like wildfire online and on cable news.
As you’ll recall, in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden there was heated conversation in this country and elsewhere about whether the photographs of his body should be made public. This show covered that topic on May 6th with Paul Waldman of The American Prospect and Phillip Gourevitch of The New Yorker. Full audio is above, it's worth another listen, and here's the transcript.
Waldman supported the release of the Bin Laden photograph:
While Gourevitch opposed it:
To be clear, the circumstances around the Gadhafi death and photos are quite different. We don't know if Gadhafi was captured before he was killed (some of the videos floating around suggest he was). The White House is not controlling the distribution of these pictures. And this is, ultimately, Libya's moment, not ours. That said, the contrast gives us a chance to reflect on how we felt about the bin Laden photographs. Have you changed your opinion about whether these types of photographs should reach the light of day?
We've reached out to Waldman and Gourevitch for follow-up comments, but for now feel free to start posting your reactions.
UPDATE: Paul Waldman writes us:
This is a very different situation from the Bin Laden question. First, in that instance there were very few pictures of Bin Laden, and so an image of his end would be all the more important. Second, any photograph the U.S. government released would have been carefully composed to represent the American victory over him. In Gadhafi's case, the images are from cell phones -- they're much more spontaneous, chaotic, and violent. They don't display the considered decisions of a government, but the actions of a mob (no matter how justified). If the new Libyan government has difficulty making an orderly transition to a new system, these images could come to have symbolic meaning, representing something not about Gadhafi but about what replaced him, the chaos and violence of the transition. I suspect that in the end, that will determine how much persistence these images have. The more successful and stable the Libyan government is, the less important these violent images will be over the long term.
[[Warning: after the jump we've included a video that shows Gadhafi's bloody body.]]