The Golden Rule and the Golden Mean

I personally am not a fan of horror films. I will take a chick-flick, romantic comedy over that any day. The idea of blood and guts everywhere mixed with hysteria and being scared is really just not my cup of tea. I definitely do not want to something like this on me television screen during the news either. This is the place many Americans found themselves while watching the broadcast of the 2010 Olympics opening ceremony.

On February 13, Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luger from the Republic of Georgia, was going on a practice run for the Olympics down Whistler Mountain at speeds nearing 100 mph, when he lost control of his sled and eventually died. This 21-year man lost his life one day before the Olympics began in a very tragic, graphic accident.

Unfortunatley, this is not where this story ends. That night while Bob Costas was covering the events about to kick off this year’s Olympics, the network told the story of the poor luger and explained that the video of his death was quite vivid and may not be appropriate for all viewers. They then showed the entire video and then they showed it again, and then they showed it for a third time. Once that horrific visual was complete, they then showed paramedics and other emergency personnel attempting to bring the young man back to life. This was definitely not the joyous celebration that most viewers expected when tuning into the opening ceremony.

If I were the broadcast news editor for the network, I would not have shown the entire video and definitely not for three times. I would have stopped the video when the sled left the ice and not shown his head hitting a metal pole. Several ethical theories come to mind when trying to make this decision. The first one is Aristole’s Golden Mean, which basically states that things are best while in the middle. In the text book Ethics in Media Communications, this theory of ethics is considered “virtue ethics.” The two extremes on this case would be to either show the video several times or not showing the footage at all. This is why I feel that the middle ground would be to only reveal portions of the content. I personally believe that not showing the video at all would not be coving the story to its full extent, which is what a network such as this is supposed to and expected to do. The Fort Lauderdale Examiner ran article on their Web site which said that “If they didn’t show the video, people would be complaining that the network was protecting its investment on the Olympics.” On the other end of the spectrum, this Olympian is someone’s son, someone’s brother and someone’s grandson, all of whom might not want the entire world to see their loved-one’s last moment. Another thought that would help me come to my decision would be the Bible’s Golden Rule, or do unto your brother as you would have him do to you. In this case I would not want my family member’s death shown in full across the country several times for everyone to see.

Another ethical theory appropriate for this case would be the utilitarian theory, which states that the best course of action is the one that has the most good for the most people. In this case, the majority would have been just fine without seeing the entire incident. This theory also supports the idea that showing the video several times, plays into sensationalism journalism, which is not good for the community at all. According to Ethics in Media Communications, utilitarianism is under the umbrella of deontological ethics, which focuses on the consequences of action and not the action itself. I feel that in this incident, the consequences of showing the video over and over would be not only the possibility of offending the victim’s family but also disturbing the public at large with the video. These consequences seem to outweigh any good that might have come from the action. In a blog found on the Notre Dame de la Baie Academy, the author supports this idea by mentioning that Kumaritashvili was not given respect in death. “The media needs to honor the fact that he was a person first and not just “the luger that died.”” In addition, it also seems that the network was exploiting the tragic death of a young man, whose name most viewers could not pronounce and who was from a country most have not heard of and definitely could not pick out on a map

This entire situation is quite heartbreaking at all angles. It seems that media coverage could have been handled in a better, more tasteful and respecting way. I personally would have only showed portions of the accident in respect for the family. I also would have shown a computer generated version of the accident, which would provide the viewers with details on the incident but would not show the actual victim and would have given him respect in his death.

I leave you, my lovely readers, with one last thought. If ever caught in a situation such as this, go with what your mother taught you as a child “Do to others what you would want done to you.”


1 Comment »

  1. Heather Said:

    Good thoughts, Allison. I agree with you completely. It was definitely handled the wrong way, although I never thought they were exploiting it until I read this. It makes sense, though. “Hey, this dude died doing this so it’s a really dangerous sport. Watch our network for more dangerous sports where others might also die.”

    Great job! I doubt any of those network execs would have done that if had been one of their own.

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