“I am not a decent person. I am a journalist.” – War reporter David Axe

Earlier this week Bill Nye the Science Guy fainted onstage during a
speech. No one bothered to help him — they were too busy tweeting the
news to the world. Commentators immediately started spouting about the passivity of youth, but war journalist David Axe says it’s just another case
of journalistic objectivity.

In a post on his blog War is Boring titled “We are all journalists: we are all bad people,” Axe — a war correspondent for Wired and the Washtington Times, among others — shares a very personal story, accompanied with video:

“Two years ago, I took the time to videotape a gunshot man dying on a street during a battle in Abeche, Chad. I did not try to help the man as he lay at my feet. I fled only when someone opened fire in my direction. It’s all there in the video, above.

“Asked about the incident a year later, I said it never occurred to me to help the man. It was my job to document the battle and its victims. If forced to choose between trying to save the life of someone I did not know, or recording his slow death so that I might highlight its tragedy, I suppose I will usually choose the latter. I am not a medic. I am not a decent person. I am a journalist.

“And so are the USC students, in a sense. The more we equip ourselves with the technology to document our own lives and events around us, the more we might see merely observing as a role—and an important one. In that sense, it’s hypocritical for any journalist to criticize the students for watching rather than acting. For if they are a good journalist, they would have done the very same thing.”

Mother Jones magazine doesn’t buy Axe’s assertion that journalists are amoral, saying that “believe it or not, you can actually do a good deed in the middle of a reporting job and still tell the story.” They point out that Axe’s WaPo writeup was “hardly objective”, instead opting to elicit an emotional reaction:

Axe wrote: “…reporter witnessed men dressed in military fatigues shooting at each other throughout downtown Abeche. One young man dressed in a mix of civilian and military clothes bled and died while soldiers and fleeing civilians stepped over him.”

Mother Jones suggests that “There’s nothing potentially more dangerous in journalism than using “objectivity” as a pretense to practice amorality. News reporting doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it isn’t good in itself. It’s supposed to be good for something: Selling papers, educating citizens, exposing injustices or inhumanities, whatever. There’s always some higher value at play when a journalist is at work.”