Media And Victims: What Is the Line Between Search For Truth, Exploitation?


Reporters “loathe asking grieving family members to go on camera,” says CNN’s Carol Costello. Citing interviews with family members of missing Malaysian Flight 370 passengers and various crime stories over the years, Costello discusses “decisions journalists must make when it comes to putting a ‘face’ on a story. Emotion is a powerful tool. It draws viewers in. It persuades them to care about an important story that happens miles away. And when viewers care, governments and police are often forced to act.”

“The challenge for journalists is to know when a search for truth crosses the line and becomes exploitative,” Costello says. She concedes that major television networks “send their biggest stars to sit down with victims. Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jaycee Dugard, the young woman kidnapped as a child, raped and rescued a decade later, garnered huge numbers.” She adds: “The truth is, as a journalist, you just don’t know whether a victim wants to share his or her story until you ask.” Costello argues that m any victims do want to talk. “The challenge comes when those people find themselves besieged by the media,” she says, noting that after relentless media coverage of the aftermath of the Newtown, Ct., school shootings, victims’ families asked the media to stay away, and many did.

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