The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Should We See the Giffords’ Shooting Video?

Michael Tomasky points to this

The chief investigator for the sheriff’s department here has for the first time publicly described the brief and gory video clip from a store security camera that shows a gunman not only shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords just above the eyebrow at a range of three feet, but then using his 9-millimeter pistol to gun down others near her at a similarly close range.

…The crucial video showing the shooting of Ms. Giffords, Judge Roll and Mr. Barber lasts only about five seconds before the gunman steps out of the frame.

At the start of the clip, it shows the “suspect coming from just outside of the frame of the video toward the parking lot,” Mr. Kastigar said. “He goes around a table set up for part of that gathering and walks up to Gabby and shoots her directly in the forehead.” It was not clear from this video, he said, if Ms. Giffords realized what was happening.

The gunman “then turns to his left and indiscriminately shoots at people sitting in chairs along the wall,” he said. The video does not show those people being shot, he said. But quickly the gunman is back in the video, which shows him turning to his right and shooting Mr. Barber, who had been with Judge Roll “standing side by side with the table to their backs.”

…And asks, “Should we see the video?”

Should it be shown publicly? It’s morbid, yes. There are the families to think about. Obviously, their consent would have to be secured. But maybe people should see what this kind of thing actually looks like in real life. Might have a salutary impact.

Tomasky updated the post, after reading the comments, and wrote that he was persuaded that this was a bad idea, because “ghoulish sensationalism” would overtake anything that might be learned from it.

I tend to agree. I don’t personally want to see it. And I’m not sure what value there is in showing it outside of a courtroom, where it might be presented as evidence against the shooter.

First, there are the families to consider. They’ve been through enough without having a video of their loved-one’s being shot — and killed, for six families — going viral and rocketing all over the internet. I can’t imagine dealing with the possibility of coming across something like that online, let alone knowing that it’s gone viral and is being viewed by millions of people. It could only serve to worsen their pain unnecessarily.

Second, and perhaps this is cynical of me, but I’m not sure that it would produce the results Tomasky initially suggested. I don’t think the violence in video would have any real impact. We’re already so desensitized to violence and numb to the pain of others that I can’t imagine this video would cause much shock or outrage, let alone reflection.

Violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others, according to a research report published in the March 2009 issue of Psychological Science.

The report details the findings of two studies conducted by University of Michigan professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson.

The studies fill an important research gap in the literature on the impact of violent media. In earlier work, Bushman and Anderson demonstrated that exposure to violent media produces physiological desensitization—lowering heart rate and skin conductance — when viewing scenes of actual violence a short time later. But the current research demonstrates that violent media also affect someone’s willingness to offer help to an injured person, in a field study as well as in a laboratory experiment.

Thus, we’re already a culture in which some of us are more likely to step over the blood of a dying stabbing victim (pausing long enough to take a picture), watch a rape without trying to stop it or calling the police (meanwhile taking pictures and inviting others to watch the fun), or record — and share — video of a crash victim instead of trying to help (even when its your job). President Obama recently called us to “sharpen our instincts for empathy,” but instead of creating a culture of empathy, we’re nearing a point of becoming empathically impaired instead of empathically enhanced. Now empathy is a “buzzword” for “liberalism,”, and a concept that has no place in government anymore (if ever).

And, no, I don’t think factoring that the violence in the video is real and unscripted would change that. The phenomenon of “war porn” and its popularity on the internet suggests that it might have more entertainment value than educational value, to some.

Although the recently released footage of U.S. Apache helicopters gunning down two Reuters journalists appalled many, similar war videos are plentiful on Web sites like and YouTube. Nate, who asked NEWSWEEK not to use his last name because he’s received death threats, has uploaded more than 800 to his own channel on and other sites.

When the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts broke out, the military officially released some of the raw combat footage now on the Internet to build a stronger bond between the home front and the battlefield. Soldiers also took their own videos or pulled them from cameras on military systems like Predator drones. But almost as soon as these images became available, civilians and soldiers alike started splicing the clips together, often adding soundtracks and spreading them across the Web. Today there are thousands of war-porn videos, and they’ve been viewed millions of times. Like sexual porn, they come in degrees of violence, ranging from soft-core montages of rocket-propelled grenades blowing up buildings to snuff-film-like shots of an insurgent taking a bullet to the head. And even as the U.S. begins its march toward the end of two long conflicts, these compilations continue to attract viewers. With a videogame sensibility, they fetishize — and warp — the most brutal parts of these high-tech wars.

Those who might be outraged by the video are already inclined to be outraged by the Tucson shooting. Those who shrug off events in Tucson would likely shrug off the video. Meanwhile those of us who are already entertained by violence — real and imagined — would have more to consume. And those of us who would seek to gin up controversy for its own sake or for other non-constructive purposes, would have more fodder.

Finally, Tomasky is right in his update. The brouhaha over the release of the video would overshadow any possible benefits. Instead of any debate at all over the temperature of our political discourse, the debate would center around whether the video should have been released, and at least some of that would include discussion of whether the release was actually intended to re-ignite the debate, etc., all the way to various and sundry vague conspiracy theories that would fill plenty of airtime in our 24-hour news cycle.

Seeing the video isn’t absolutely necessary to understanding this horrific event. It would probably cause more problems than it solved, raise more questions than it answers, and take us around in a circle again about what motivated this event, who is or isn’t at fault, the motivations of the shooter, etc. Right now, there’s at least some discussion of the nature of our political discourse and the possibility of changing it. There’s value in having that discussion. More value than seeing the video for the sake of …. Well, for the sake of what else but just seeing it.

If the video is released, seeing it won’t make us better, and it’s not worth finding out if it makes us worse.

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