Since our first year of publishing STATter911.com we have had a variety of postings about cameras at the scene of emergency incidents. With it has been an ongoing conversation with you, our readers, about the ethics, rights and responsibilities of the press, public, victims, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and police officers.
That conversation was bumped to a new level a year ago this month with the video above of a trooper with the Connecticut State Police screaming at a freelance news photographer shooting a fatal car fire from behind a guard rail on I-95. There were 165 comments, many of them from me, as we went back and forth over the actions of the trooper and the man behind the camera. (Click here and scroll down for the comments.)
Many of you, like the trooper, thought the cameraman was a ghoul and I was equally evil for defending him. I asked a lot of questions from those who took the trooper's side and blasted the videographer and me.
I tried to understand what was so offensive about the video. As you look at the raw footage above, the only thing you see is a burning car. As I have asked from the start, since when is shooting a car fire that shuts down a highway taboo?
In fact, maybe something is wrong with me (many of you have said as much), but the only thing I found offensive were the actions of the trooper. Not only was the trooper rude and insensitive to someone doing their job, he overstepped his bounds, acting as an editor or censor of what the public is allowed to see. Many of you made excuses for the trooper and I agreed it is just possible he was having a bad day. As for the videographer, despite all the name calling by our readers, no one pointed to any evidence that he didn't do his job professionally and treat the trooper with respect.
Taking in all of the comments and studying them closely, I came to my own conclusion of what was actually fueling the outrage. Despite what many wrote, this was not about being sensitive to the victim and her family. Though I do think that some of you sincerely believe in your hearts that was the case. I contended then and am even more convinced now (based on what I am about to show you) that most of those defending the trooper are willing to let a uniformed agent of our government decide what's appropriate for us to see, First Amendment be damned, because of a hatred of, or bias against, the press.
I have known for a long time how despised the news media is, but reading the reaction to this video actually made me fear a bit for the future of our country. Even if I strongly disagreed with the actions of the photographer, I wouldn't want the police or any other government agency to be the decider of what we can see in a public place.
Besides the First Amendment issue, I also believe that there is a natural tendency for people to side with the authority figure. He's a cop, so he must be right. I get that, but again respectfully disagree that our government is always right.
So, why am I bringing this up now?
Take a look at the videos below. All have been posted on STATter911.com since October and were widely viewed, prompting many comments. Each one involves fire fatalities or critical injuries. Two videos show firefighters rescuing small children from burning homes. One clip is of a man being pulled from his burning home. Another has scenes of a man who later died collapsed outside a burning hotel. There is one showing firefighters attacking a fire with three bodies still inside. And there is also a video that shows efforts to recover a firefighter who died in the line of duty.
To me, each of these videos is a hell of a lot more graphic than what was shown in the Connecticut car fire video. All of the videos, except two, show victims in cardiac or respiratory arrest being treated by fire and EMS.
Despite the many comments posted with each of the videos, there is no one complaining that these photographers, like the one in Connecticut, are ghouls. We have no one screaming about victims' rights or HIPAA violations. And no one is telling me what a bad man I am for running these videos. Why is that? How can that be?
How can shooting a car fire bring such outrage while showing actual fire victims or being up close and personal at a fatal fire not even bring a squeak?
I believe the answer is pretty simple. In these videos there was no authority figure on the scene, like the police officer in Connecticut, overstepping his or her bounds and fueling the fire and passion against the photographers.
What I attempt to do with every conflict I see or am involved in, is to boil down what it's really about. Despite all of the claims last year of protecting the victim (which I believe those in public safety can do without trampling on our freedoms), I am left with the conclusion that, without someone yelling at a photographer, or reminding us of our hatred of the press, we generally just sit back and watch these videos without a great deal of disgust, anger and outrage. Am I wrong?