Friday, January 15, 2010

The Journalist Can't Set Aside His Humanity in the Face of Tragedy, Nor Should He

Yesterday I read Show Tracker, a entertainment blog on the Los Angeles Times. The writer was saying CNN's Sanjay Gupta over stepped his bounds as a journalist by helping those in need in Haiti. By using his skills as a doctor and then filming the interaction, the author argues, Dr. Gupta was blurring the line of impartial reporter of the news. Wow. Really?

As a tried and true journalist, I have to say I do agree with the idea that journalists should remain as partial as possible in most situations. If they are a political journalist they shouldn't participate in rallies, I even have extra respect for those who opt not to vote in order to be more fair to both sides.

But the situation in Haiti is no political convention. The journalists there are face-to-face with raw humanity. Yes, they are there to cover the news. But they are also looking into the eyes of death and grief. No matter how solid of a reporter you are, how can you overlook a fellow human being in need? How can you tell them 'I'm sorry, I have the means to help you but I need to be impartial and cover this for my news organization'?

This way of thinking, reminded me of the famous picture of a child about to be eaten by a vulture taken by photojournalist Kevin Carter. We've all seen the haunting photo, which originally appeared in the New York Times in 1993. Carter received a lot of grief for not helping the little girl get to a nearby feeding center. The photo is still amazing, but wouldn't it have been worthwhile to pick the little one up and take her to get food instead of chasing the culture away and then leaving the scene?

Dr. Gupta is trying to use his talents as a doctor and a journalist to help and tell the story of the Haiti disaster. I as a CNN viewer and journalist do not feel jipped that he is filling both roles there.

The only thing I did agree with in the blog post was that CNN should not have featured the video of Dr. Gupta helping the baby so prominently on its site. It's not pressing news and should not be treated as such.

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