LAST FRIDAY, the Boston Phoenix published a link to ProHosters.com, a Web-hosting company, which has made available the video released by the murderers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Deciding whether to link to the video from our home page was clear-cut. "This is the single most gruesome, horrible, despicable, and horrifying thing I’ve ever seen," Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich wrote in an online note below the link. "If there is anything that should galvanize every non–Jew hater in the world — of whatever faith, or of no faith — against the perpetrators and supporters of those who committed this unspeakable murder, it should be viewing this video."
Some background: last week, the unedited video, portions of which were broadcast nationally by CBS news, surfaced on Ogrish.com, a customer of ProHosters. Shortly afterward, the FBI ordered Ogrish.com to take the video off its site. In an Associated Press report, FBI agent Sandra Carroll said that the FBI did so "out of consideration for the [Pearl] family."
ProHosters owner Ted Hickman has a different story. He told Wired magazine that the FBI threatened Ogrish.com with legal action, claiming that the video violated laws against publishing obscene content. The FBI even tried to get the name of the creator of Ogrish.com out of Hickman, who told agents he’d comply only if they came back with a subpoena. He then contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which in turn contacted the FBI. Since then, the FBI has stopped trying to suppress publication of the video, and ProHosters is linking to it from its home page with a letter from Hickman about his decision to air the video.
The silence on this issue — the United States government’s attempt to censor politically sensitive, yet legal content — from our leading pundits and opinion makers has been deafening.
Where’s the outrage? Where are our civil libertarians? Our First Amendment absolutists?
By contrast, when CBS news decided to air excerpts from the video, opinion makers had plenty to say. Much of it fell into two camps: no portion of the video should have been aired out of respect for the Pearl family; and the video should not be seen in its entirety because it’s a piece of Islamic-fundamentalist propaganda. (A minority of observers said that CBS handled the issue with both ethics and tact intact.)
The news media never let the feelings of family members impact a decision to print newsworthy, yet disturbing, photographic images or broadcast similarly upsetting video footage. The day after the September 11 terror attacks, the New York Times published photos of people falling from the top floors of the World Trade Center. Footage of the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers aired repeatedly in the days following the attack.
How many times have we seen footage of the Challenger explosion? Or looked at photos of the aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City? Should Life magazine have refused to publish the first photos taken of the concentration camps? Or the photo of a South Vietnamese intelligence chief shooting a suspected Viet Cong prisoner in the head? In the last two instances, the photos and images depict scenes from war. So does the video depicting Daniel Pearl’s death.
Is the video propaganda? Yes. At the video’s end, these demands from the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistan Sovereignty scroll onscreen:
"The immediate release of all US held prisoners in Guantinamo [sic] Bay Cuba.
"The return of Pakistan prisoners to Pakistan.
"The immediate end of US presence in Pakistan.
"The delivery of F-16 planes that Pakistan had paid for and never received.
"We assure Americans that they will never be safe on the Muslim land of Pakistan.
"And if our demands are not met this scene will be repeated again and again."
Of course, the video’s impact will vary according to its audience. There’s no question that it could recruit those with anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiments to the Islamic-fundamentalist campaign of terror.
The rest of us who watch it will find it repugnant.
Beyond its repugnance, though, it has value in reminding us, as did September 11, what anti-American terrorists are capable of. It’s hard to find language strong enough to decry the impulse to keep this information from the public. Whether or not we watch this video is not the FBI’s decision to make. It’s ours. That’s why we’ve done what we think other media outlets should have done and made the video available.
It is beyond shocking that the international political leaders who’ve seen this video have said so little about it and said even less in the way of condemning the murderers of Daniel Pearl. Truly, it demands a far more vigorous response than it has received thus far.
Don’t believe us? If you choose, view it at http://prohosters.com/pearl/ and judge for yourself.
What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com