11 September 2005

The Integrity of Your Ancestors (and Recently-Deceased Relatives)

People, I told you once how grotesque it was to deal in human remains and to use halls of justice and law to make egocentric points (and cash) through the wielding of bones and teeth as tools of your smaller agendas. I told you flat out to stop pimping bones, and to let the dead have their rest.

CNN thinks different. Like any good corporation, focused on the bottom line of a financial ledger, it operates without genuine regard for the public it claims to benefit. Here's CNN's September 9th internal memo defining the dignity of the dead on the Gulf Coast:

"To: CNN Staff
From: Jim Walton
In response to official statements earlier today that news media would be excluded from covering the victim recovery process in New Orleans and surrounding areas on the suggestion that what is reported may offend viewers' or victims' sensibilities, CNN has filed a lawsuit in federal court to prohibit any agency from restricting its ability to fully and fairly cover this story.
As seen most recently from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, from tsunami-ravaged South Asia and from Hurricane Katrina's landfall along the Gulf, CNN has shown that it is capable of balancing vigorous reporting with respect for private concerns. Government officials cannot be allowed to hinder the free flow of information to the public, and CNN will not let such a decision stand without challenge."

What that mean? Means, just like we got to released pictures of caskets at Dover Air Force Base, we'll do the same on Katrina victims.

Funny. Four years ago today, CNN would not show people dying in the Twin Towers (Europe was all over it of course, their mainsteam media outlets having long ago abandoned any sense of dignity).

Somewhere along the way, CNN got the idea that it is a public service organization instead of a for-profit corporation. At some point, CNN got the idea that it serves the public interest to photograph corpses of individuals whose families might first learn of and confirm their fate at the top of the hour.

This is beyond wrong. It is perverse. Faces Of Death-like programming does not belong on the news. It does not belong in prime time. It is not justified by the financial bottom line. It is not normal for CNN employees to work towards this type of product. They are not normal for pushing it.

Unfortunately, the federal government decided not to challenge CNN. I guess the guv'ment is in friendly-mode right now, since the Feds were only marginally more prepared for Katrina than the local yokels. So CNN gets to show all the bloated floaters it wants to, and make a ton of cash along the way. Of course, there are "emotional distress" lawsuits, but that doesn't take away from the inherent violation of human rights that comes with airing someone's dead sister on the six o'clock news while relatives are frantically trying to reach her cell phone.

One thing's for sure: don't get in the way of a big corporation trying to make money unless you got deep pockets.

Now. Here's some good. Serious and related good. Mainsteam media ought to cover this. Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai`i Nei (Group Caring For the Ancestors of Hawai`i) thinks different about remains, and dignity in general:

Check out this chant they use:

Na makou e malama i na iwi o ko makou kupuna
Nana mo`o e malama i kou makou iwi
A ho`omau ka lokahi o kakou

That translates as

We will care for the bones of our ancestors
Our children will care for our bones
As we continue this interdependency.

Perhaps people in the Gulf Coast should start a similar group, and remove photographs and video of the dead from the grasping hands of reporters, just as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai`i Nei has successfully defended the dead from from acquisitive colonial-era museums.


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