When Is Censorship Justified?


Harold Evans, who is against releasing the bin Laden pictures, considers shocking photographs from different eras:

Ronald Haeberle’s picture of dead and terrified villagers at My Lai were not the gratuitous violence alleged against the publishers. They were evidence of a massacre. They were the reality of war. Similarly, a World War II photograph of the beheading of an Australian soldier by a Japanese officer was horrifying, but testimony to the nature of an insensate cruelty.

By the same token, it would have been better if decades of American editors had not suppressed gruesome photographs of Southern lynchings in the 1920s and '30s; or if someone had had the tenacity and courage of the documentary photographer Carole Gallagher in showing, with the agreement of the subjects, what disfigurement had been produced by two decades of radiation from atomic bomb tests in the American Southwest.

On the same test, however, it was merely to satisfy morbid curiosity to show us the dead Lee Harvey Oswald lying on a pathologist’s table, with the crude post-mortem stitches lacerating his chest. That picture was suppressed but eventually made it into print. I’d guess that the same will happen with the bin Laden and it won’t do more than indulge a prurient curiosity.