I have just a couple of things to say about the pictures the Journal published today on the front page of unconscious or possibly dead women who may or may not be linked to the West Mesa Murders.
First, let me say that from the instant the West Mesa bodies were discovered back in the winter of 2009, I have been in favor of more news coverage, not less, of this horrible crime. (You can see what I wrote about it in a column for the New Mexico Independent here.)
I favored more coverage for two reasons. Not only could publicity of the crimes possibly help the police solve them. But I also strongly believed that the community’s outcry over their deaths and the resulting deluge of news stories about them was a way, however belated, to dignify their abbreviated lives.
We all saw that those West Mesa victims had tough lives – the kind of lives shared by a sizable segment of women in this town. Besides their loving families, not many people in Albuquerque were concerned about the victims while they were alive. Sadly, it took the shocking discovery of their mass grave to make the rest of the city even care.
But there’s a line between publicity and exploitation – and the think the Journal crossed it today.
Publishing pictures of unknown women who may or not be DEAD on the front page is simply beyond the pale.
Voyeurism and Exploitation
Looking at the pictures, I am reminded of a line from an essay by NPR’s Anne Taylor Fleming, written in the summer of 2002 when a number of high-profile child kidnappings and murders sparked mawkish and incessant coverage by the media.
Fleming wrote that the barrage of salacious stories was akin to “voyeurism and exploitation doing a devil’s dance with legitimate grief.”
And I think the publication of these women’s pictures is a perfect example of that.
It might be one thing if there were a clear connection between the murders and pictures. But, as the accompanying story reveals, police concede the connection between the pictures and the murders is highly unclear.
Neither the Journal nor the police have any clue who these women are or under what circumstances the photos were taken.
Some of these women might be long-dead West Mesa murder victims – but some of them might be walking around among us.
So how is publication of those pictures on the front page of the morning newspapers going to help police solve the case?
I fail to see it.
And I weep for those women – whoever they are – whose pictures were published today.