'We Have an Obligation to Show You Reality'

David McCumber, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer managing editor at the center of the storm over his paper's refusal to publish photos of two men the FBI was seeking to identify and locate as part of an investigation into possible terrorist threats to the Seattle-area ferry system, once justified his paper's publication of a photo to readers by saying the paper "did it because we have an obligation to show you reality."The photo in question came from the Indonesian tsunami tragedy. McCumber wrote about it on the paper's website.

In order to fully inform, must we occasionally disturb? I believe so. While we are always cognizant of readers' sensibilities as we weigh such decisions, news photos carry their own truth -- they document, verify, give us the information we need to judge an event. That information is not always pleasant. I've written before of the power of the images of the dead protester at Kent State, the napalmed little girl in Vietnam. Society needs such images to be able to process its own history.To those readers who were offended, I am sorry we caused you pain. To the rest of you, who were horrified at the tragedy but accepted our obligation to report it, thanks for your understanding.

McCumber was right, then. But this week, he allowed political correctness and a fear of offending Seattle's Muslim population keep him from running photos of two men whom he thought appeared to be Arab. Mind you, the FBI did not single out the men because they looked a certain ethnicit, but because their behavior was suspicious.McCumber didn't want to offend people, so he didn't run the pictures.In order to fully inform, must we occasionally disturb? I believe so. While we are always cognizant of readers' sensibilities as we weigh such decisions, news photos carry their own truth -- they document, verify, give us the information we need to judge an event. That's what the FBI was asking the media help it to do - give readers information they could use to help the FBI "judge an event," and find out if the men represent a danger or not.McCumber says the P-I had an "obligation" to publish the tsunami photo. But this week he denied the paper has any obligation to help law enforcement - "we get to decide what is news and what isn't," he said. But what about 'we have an obligation to show you reality'?Reality in Seattle this week is that the FBI is so interested in finding the two mystery ferry passengers that it took the highly unusual step of releasing the photo to the public. And yet the P-I attempted to shield the people of Seattle from that reality - by refusing to run the photos, out of a misguided sense of political correctness that took precedence over the safety of the people of Seattle.