The Olympic Games are designed to be a celebration of culture and sports, a connection to the best the world has to offer, a time of joy and triumph combined with disappointment and defeat. But, the Games are not supposed to include tragedy, the way the 2010 Vancouver Games started.
With the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, in a training run, the 2010 Games will be remembered by many as a sad moment in the sporting world. Barring another tragic or spectacular happening or event, the history books will probably immortalize little beside Kumaritashvili's luge crash and subsequent passing.
His death, while heartbreaking and unexpected, isn't the only thing many will take away from the 2010 Vancouver Games. The video of his crash and the outrage by some will also be a sad focus of these winter games.
So, the question many are still asking is, "Why did some TV stations (and Web sites) show the video of Kumaritashvili's death?"
I would like to think that my university studies and current and past career endeavors would make me qualified to answer the question, but with so many different ways of looking at this situation, 700 words in one column could never do the subject justice. Entire 16-week classes are taught on media ethics. A decision of this nature is not made based on five minutes of discussion.
First, a few facts and reminders. NBC paid $2 billion for the rights to televise the 2010 and 2012 Olympics and that makes everything that happens with the Olympics big business for NBC. On the flip side, all media outlets have a social responsibility to screen or determine what they deem as "newsworthy." Simply because it happened, and someone caught it on videotape or camera does not mean that a station or newspaper "must" show it to the public.
Second, because Kumaritashvili was an Olympic athlete, he becomes what is considered a public figure or limited public figure. His actions in this type of event are not given the same type of protections that you or I would enjoy as private citizens. Similar to Hollywood stars or politicians, what they do is seen in a different light by the law and what happens to them, in public, is generally seen as "newsworthy." We've all seen other examples of this; a politician's personal life is not truly "personal," (i.e. John Edwards or South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford) or someone who puts themselves at the forefront of a public controversy becomes a limited public figure (Rush Limbaugh or John Stewart).
With some of those facts out in the open, I'm sure a lengthy discussion involving TV executives and journalists in their newsrooms took place before a decision was made. Some chose not to show the video at all, merely to describe in words what took place. Others weighed the magnitude of the event, the impact of the video and the nature of the location as factors that determined they would show Kumaritashvili's luge crash.
Would it have made a difference if Kumaritashvili was an American, or favored to win his event? Maybe, maybe not.
Who is to say that the subsequent safety-related changes to the track, as a result of his death, would have happened if the video hadn't been shown? Is there some good or at least potential bad prevented, because the video was shown worldwide?
While I would have argued against showing this video (if I were in the national NBC newsroom during the discussion), I do appreciate that fact that the video was prefaced with a warning from the anchor, due to the graphic nature of the content. I also appreciate that the video was only shown the day that the accident occurred. If you are really interested in watching the last moments of Kumaritashvili's life, over and over again, go online and view it there.
There is no easy answer to the ethical question of showing video of this nature. Each side of the argument is likely to be upset, regardless of how the story is told. And, since each situation is unique, the next time an event of this kind occurs, the question will once again be asked, "Should this video be shown to the general public?" It's a tougher question then you might imagine.
(Lyman is one of four community columnists for The Minot Daily News)