Ethics & Journalism

In Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969), John Cassellis (Robert Foster) loves “shooting film.” His ability to emotionally detach himself from that which, and who, he is shooting is exemplified in the opening scene of the film. Cassellis and a fellow television reporter calmly film a car accident and the victim’s body, strewn like a ragdoll on the ground nearby. Once they have shot all they need for their piece, they walk back to their car, pack up their cameras and decide to call for help.

Violence as a result of socio-political discontent occurs throughout the film, and Cassellis wants to capture it all. One of the burning questions Haskell’s film raises is whether moral responsibility applies to reporters covering events where others are in danger.

Several months ago, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Republic of Haiti nearly a quarter-million people were killed in seconds. The devastation brought an outpouring of support and news coverage. One of the first journalists on scene in the capital of Port-au-Prince was CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Days after the quake, the capital was the scene of a number of food and goods riots. During one particular riot, looters broke into a convenience store through the roof. Once inside, they began stealing candles and proceeding to sell them on the street right in front of the store.

During the chaos, debris was thrown off the roof to keep back a growing crowd. As a result, a young boy was struck in the head with a large piece of concrete. Bleeding badly on the ground, the boy was nearly unconscious and still in harm’s way. Immediately, Cooper put down his camera (while another cameraman captured the event) and was able to move the boy to safety. Below, Cooper recounts his intervention in the event he was capturing. Cooper assumes a moral responsibility Cassellis was wholly free of.