NEW YORK (AP) – CBS News reporter Debora Patta has covered the conflict in Africa and the Middle East and the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Europe. She has seen violence and death up close before. But the atrocities she witnessed in BuchaUkraine this week stood out and overwhelmed it.
“We need to disrupt these images,” Patta told CBS Mornings, after describing what she and other journalists witnessed on the outskirts of Kyiv.
The war changed this week from a media perspective, which is how most people outside Ukraine experience it.
Previously, events had been seen primarily from a short distance – fire explosions that were caught on camera or sighted with drone eyes from burnt-out buildings. Now that the Ukrainian army is taking back control of villages near Kyiv that Russian troops had used violence.Journalists are capturing the aftermath of horrific violence at close range – of corpses being tied up, tortured and burned.
While there is some sense that images like these could change public opinion or influence the course of war, historically it has not often been the case, said Rebecca Adelman, a professor of communications at the University of Maryland who specializes in war and the media.
However, several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, imposed further sanctions on Russia this week.and they cited the atrocities in Bucha that forced them to do more.
Whatever the impact, Adelman said it was important to have journalists on hand to document what was happening. “Testifying is very important, especially in cases of tragic loss,” she said. “Sometimes a picture is all you need.”
Photographs and video from Bucha showed a bag of corpses piled up in trenches, lifeless limbs protruding from graves dug in haste and bodies scattered across the streets where they fell, including one man blown up by a bicycle.
Journalists from around the world also interviewed Ukrainians who had come from their hiding places to tell stories of savagery they had witnessed by Russian troops.
TV presenters and reporters warned viewers that they were going to see graphic and disturbing images – a warning that appeared four times in one episode of “World News Tonight” on ABC. “I’m sorry I have to show you this,” Frederik Pleitgen, a CNN reporter, apologized before pointing to the camera to show corpses piled up in a van.
“While we may want to look away, it’s getting harder and harder to close our eyes to what’s going on,” Lester Holt, NBC’s Nightly News editorial, warned viewers.
Former TV presenter Rick Kaplan said that from what he has seen, news agencies have been careful about what they have shown without hesitation.
“Every day we have these pictures that it brings (the war) home more and more,” said Kaplan, former president of both CNN and MSNBC. “It is good that it frightens us. Can you imagine if we were crazy about it? “
The horrific images of Bucha in particular have dominated the news around the world.
The BBC reported continued “global phobia”. Italian state television gave no warning before showing bodies with their hands tied, half buried in the sand. “What you see from here, unfortunately, are signs of facial torture,” said journalist Stefania Battistini. “Everyone is in civilian clothes.”
“It is our duty to warn you, but also to show you what the Russians did in Bucha and a few other places,” Grzegorz Kajdanowicz told a report in Fakty, Poland’s most-watched evening news program.
This was different in Russia, where state television wrongly claimed that Ukraine was responsible for either killing civilians themselves or committing hoaxes. Russian television has also published images of Bucha’s bodies, some taken from CNN, with the word “fake” stamped on the screen, according to the Internet Archive, a company that monitors web and television content.
Russian propaganda led many Western news outlets to refute these claims by using satellite images to show that many bodies documented on the ground this week by journalists were in the same places when Russia ruled the town.
Some of the most pictorial images were taken in a short video made by Ukraine to accompany President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to the United Nations on Tuesday. The video showed close-ups of corpses and body parts in a soundtrack of sad music and baby crying.
Technical difficulties delayed its broadcast until long after Zelenskyy spoke, giving networks such as CNN and Fox News Channel that had broadcast the talk time to present it later in a modified form. But MSNBC seemed to show it in its entirety and left the anchor Andrea Mitchell after a visible tremor.
“It’s just awful,” she said. “I do not think the world has ever seen anything like it.
Ukraine has clear incentives to show the world what’s going on, and journalists accompanied Zelenskyy on a visit to Bucha on Monday.
While television and the Internet make war coverage more tentative, heartwarming images – and their potential for shaping public opinion – are hardly new.
Harvard historian Drew Faust, author of “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War,” noted that when Matthew Brady had an exhibition of his Civil War films in 1862, The New York Times wrote, “if he has not brought a corpse. and laid them in our courtyards and along the streets, he has done something similar.
When a memorable photo was distributed of a 5-year-old boy sitting dead and bleeding after he was rescued from a bomb blast in Aleppo, Syria in 2016, NPR asked in a headline: “Can one photo help end a war?
It has not yet.
There is also a danger that in a world that will not be easily shocked, people will be stunned by the images. That’s Faust’s fear, especially as she expressed her surprise that many became strangely connected to the news of so many dying from COVID-19.
As more societies get rid of Russian rule, the number of scary films will almost certainly multiply.
“It takes a little bit of caution in the future so that every single news item does not become a parade of horrific images,” said Bill Wheatley, a retired news consultant and executive director of NBC News.
But one of the surprises of this war, along with Ukraine’s ability to prevent a quick defeat, is how Zelenskyy has managed to win the information campaign and unite opposition in an unexpected way. In that context, the pictures could make all the difference.
Colleen Barry Associated Press correspondent in Milan, Italy; Louise Dixon in London; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland; and Amanda Seitz of Washington, DC, contributed to this report.