FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ

by

America is deemed the repository dreams, but it is also the supreme engine of nightmares. Fantasies of perfection just as often become realisations of bloody awareness.

Where grievances are resolved by bullets and briefs, the appearance of the former is bound to cause an avalanche of comment. Witness the killing of two individuals on WDBJ-TV on “live” television near Moneta: reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. The interviewee, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Vicki Gardner, was injured.

The gunman was Vester Flanagan II, a former employee who had been fired by the network. When working for the station, he would use the on-air name of Bryce Williams. His 23 page fax to the ABC outlined a range of disagreements, citing racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

“It is effectively an execution,” says the stunned CNN anchor. Live executions certainly have their power. The followers of ISIS understand it, and attempt to disseminate raw images in their totality. Editing is eschewed. Beheadings are released on the net like cruel bolts of realisation. The response then, is to limit circulation, cut the images and maybe bar them altogether. The war of images is not only to show them, but how not to show them.

In the US, the debate on broadcasting executions – albeit those inflicted by the state, rather than private citizens- is not new. In 2011, Zachary B. Shemtob and David Lat suggested in the New York Times that executions should be televised.[1] Democracy demands transparency and accountability. “As long as executions remain behind closed doors, these are impossible.”

The dreadful irony of this was missed when discussion shifted to whether the late gun man would also, should he survive, face the death penalty. The news community noted that Virginia is in the “top five” in the executioner’s league. The debate proved to be academic in the end: Williams would die of his self-inflicted wounds.

This brings us to another feature of the news community. What these shootings demonstrated was a paternalistic censorship. People cannot see what actually happened. Reality is too grotesque, the great unpardonable, to be allowed in US media. Demons and targets of moral opprobrium are – the gunman was given a due serving on “live” television, and there was even a sense of remorse that he might survive his own self-inflicted wounds to make a trial.

The Hollywood cleansing is needed, a cloth that does the cleaning rounds on the wickedness that is reality. Only those in the media channels can view it – repeatedly, there is this homely southern decency that some things ought not to be done.

Bryce Williams was one of the few to witness his handiwork. He was witnessing the live shot, both the bullets that were being fired, and the actual interview. He was killing, literally, live. In its purest vulgarity, it was a statement of anti-editing, a direct lethal statement.

In a perverse sense, he was moving beyond the fanciful hypocrisies of the news establishment, the self-censorship mechanism that governs the release of news to the general public. The very notion of doing things “live” in news is often far from the truth. Much is contrived. Much is delayed. Subjects are interviewed in offices that are not theirs, doing work that is staged for the camera shot. There is, in other words, very little live about a medium that tends to simulate a form of death. The life, in short, has left the screen. It is delayed, even suspended.

Central to the deception is the idea that exactitude and accuracy count, and that these are supposedly conveyed to the public. “We will read the tweets out to you. Exactly as they were said.” This is the CNN anchor line in the wake of the shootings, and of course, such accuracy should immediately get one thinking: reality is only tolerable through the sorting medium of the televised medium.

Not even Facebook continued to air the video. Links were deleted. The most live of feeds had gone into the mode of censure and suspension. Viral videos showing koalas scurrying after vehicles in Australia are permissible; the spectacle of a former colleague shooting those he has a beef with is not.

Naturally, the sentimental complex immediately took hold. There were toothy grins, and depictions of happy humans, the best pictures, the most enthusiastic vignettes of Parker and Ward. Ad hoc memorials were being organised.

Then, as with every murder event that makes the US news circuit, the shrink commentariat had to make a show. What was the mental furniture looking like for the shooter? The assailant had “anger management issues”; there were issues of disturbance. From without, the ventriloquists were taking over. The medication route was suggested by such individuals as psychiatrist as Janet Taylor.

The news providers had become the news. This was a supreme indication about the anchors becoming the centre of the world. The bullets gave them a bloody centre stage. We are unlikely to hear the last of this, not because it was a tragedy (yes it was) but because it typified the assumptions of the media establishment. Williams, if he appreciated nothing else, understood the power of death on “live” television.

Notes.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/opinion/sunday/executions-should-be-televised.html?_r=0

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail