I arrived at the accident scene in Sheridan in 1973 just as emergency responders did.
What I saw was unnerving. A 13year-old boy had been riding his bicycle along busy Highway 65 when he struck the side of a fast moving big rig, was pulled under it, and was decapitated.
I was a high school student at the time working as a photographer and reporter for the weekly Lincoln News Messenger. I refrained from shooting any photos of the accident scene until after deputies arrived and draped a sheet over the body.
A few years later working as a reporter for the Press-Tribune I covered a crime scene where a rape and murder victim had been dumped in the middle of Industrial Park Avenue in Roseville. I thought I had been careful to get photos without any of the woman’s limbs protruding out from under the sheet as investigators worked around her. The photo of the scene the editor had picked out that day for the front page almost made it into print until a worker in paste-up noticed something we had missed - a foot protruding from beneath the sheet. At the last minute we took a different, and much less effectively-framed shot and replaced it.
Such restraint today seems quaint and archaic.
The anything goes attitude of many posting video on YouTube has spawned a lightning fast robotic desire to post anything tantalizing in a bid to get something to go viral.
During the past three weeks consider what has been posted:
•Smartphone video was shot by more than one person who stood around as a tourist in Baltimore was beaten, stripped and robbed. Not one person getting video with their smartphone bothered to intercede. But a number rushed to post their video that included the sound of those chronicling the beat down laughing.
•YouTube also had video footage of a severe beating inside a McDonald’s.
No thought is given to those being victimized. It’s all about getting the most outrageous footage on YouTube.
YouTube, though, isn’t the worst of it.
Taunting and bullying took place long before Tweeting, blogging, and cell video. Its range, though, was limited. Today vicious attacks go to the far corners of the globe instantaneously often invoking more vicious and anonymous pile-on responses.
The ability to embarrass and harass at will is the byproduct of social media advances, assuming they can be called that, when it comes to how a growing number of folks use new technology.
A few short years ago we were enraged that the paparazzi hounded Princess Di to death. Now some of the people who slammed the Fleet Street tabloids for chasing down every provocative photo and juicy tidbits about Princess Di are doing the same thing to others.
It isn’t a leap at all to imagine what would happen today if a 13-year is decapitated in a public place in an accident. The first thing that would come to the mind of some is not to call authorities but to whip out their smartphone, start videoing, and then uploading as quickly as possible.
No thought given to the victim’s dignity. No thought given to the victim’s family and friends. It’s all about the video and getting hits on YouTube to build one’s Internet popularity.
Suggest restraint and you get accused of promoting censorship.
Yes, one has a lot of constitutional rights when it comes to “free speech” including things that happen in a public place.
Even so, there are limits to constitutional rights. It is not protected speech, for example, to scream fire for kicks in a crowded theater.
It is a sad to see technology that would awe those who died 50 years ago if they were alive to see it today being used to unravel the fabric of civilization that must be woven with respect and restraint.
This column is the opinion of managing editor Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.