It's from last weeks New York Observer, but it's still, of course, brilliant. You must read it. Like all his work it's so complex, so far-ranging while still being a coherent whole, that it's difficult to excerpt. But, here's a teaser for those truly pressed for time:
I was thinking about the question of pessimism in relation to the photos and the video—the prisoner-abuse photos from Abu Ghraib and the head-severing video of Nick Berg. Not whether it’s right to report on them, but whether it’s right to use pictures that are designed to humiliate the photos’ subjects and increase the potential for humiliation a billion times or so by broadcasting them incessantly.
The Nick Berg beheading video raises some of the same questions raised by the Daniel Pearl beheading video. Were the networks right to broadcast the sanitized version that stopped when the sawing, severing and brandishing of the head began? In the anthology I’ve just published (Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism, the book from which Cynthia Ozick’s brilliant essay, reprinted here in the May 10, 2004, Observer—www.observer.com/pages/story.asp?ID=9025—was taken), one section is devoted to a discussion of that question in regard to the video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading. Should it be broadcast? Should one watch?
In theory, I believe that people should not look away—as Samuel G. Freedman argues in one of the essays in the book. We shouldn’t look away from evil. But having spoken personally with Daniel Pearl’s father, Dr. Judea Pearl, I still can’t bring myself to watch his son die. Dr. Pearl believes that to watch the video is to become an accessory to the purposes of the terrorists.
With Nick Berg, I can deplore the double standard of the media that will broadcast the humiliation of Muslims to show us how bad the perpetrators are, but will not broadcast the beheading of Nick Berg to show us the true face of terrorism.
But in some ways, I think I’ve resisted watching the beheading because to watch would be to lose the last shreds of optimism left in this pessimist’s soul. Pessimists don’t like being pessimists. We don’t need any more evidence for our point of view. We’ve got enough reasons to curse the darkness to last a lifetime.
UPDATE: This is almost entirely unrelated, but it seems better to put it here than to make it a separate entry. Anyway, The New York Observer has two pretty interns standing in front of Penn Station handing out free papers. What's up with that? Is this really an effective way to boost circulation? I mean, it seems like they'd need something more targeted. How many random people are going to dig their salmon colored-media geeky-catiness and elitism enough to subscribe? I've never seen this done before, with any publication. How strange.