Several recent news stories have affirmed the visceral power of video. Ukraine. Ferguson. ISIS. And now, another striking case: the NFL’s handling of former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice. The uproar over the Rice footage stems from the remarkable chain of events how it came to light. Months ago, Rice battered his then-fiancé (now wife), Janay Palmer, in a casino elevator. Based on earlier video, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games before admitting he “got it wrong” by being too lenient. Then came the Sept. 8 bombshell: TMZ’s release of new elevator footage showing Rice throwing the knockout punch and stepping over Palmer’s unconscious body. The megascoop shamed the NFL (more so with suggestions it has long had the video), flummoxed its media partners and galvanized conversation on domestic violence.
Many news and sports networks (plus countless video-proffering websites) traveled a familiar Icarus-like trajectory, playing the video endlessly, often without warnings or disclaimers, prompting cries of exploitation. The video should have been shelved out of respect to Palmer, many (including Palmer) argued, echoing similar pleas about ISIS beheadings, which have largely been honored.
Disturbing as the footage is, we wouldn’t go quite as far. Nets and local TV should pursue a middle path, fulfilling public service duties by showing video like this in controlled doses. Video today not only fills TV airwaves—it saturates social networks and pumps through the media bloodstream. Those who want it need only click. But expunging the evidence entirely doesn’t help anyone—except, perhaps, abusers like Ray Rice.