Bhutto’s assassination: brought to you by …

This is a screen capture from a photo gallery at today’s LA Times (click to view full size):

Benazir Bhutto's assassination jpg

I don’t want to pick on the Palazzo Las Vegas hotel:  I’m sure they didn’t choose to sponsor this particular image. And in fact there are several sponsors of the photo gallery; the Palazzo just happened to come up on this image.

But I want people to see the juxtaposition of this photograph and this advertisement and take careful note. This is what Western democracy has sunk to, as capitalism now swamps every other social institution.

At local Junior “A” hockey games, I get a chuckle out of the “Goulbourne Sanitation power play”. A local business, sponsoring the local hockey team. There’s no harm in that.

But this? Where is the moral discernment of the LA Times? Where is our moral discernment? We are so bombarded with advertisements that we have ceased to be conscious of them, no matter what the context. And that’s a very dangerous state of affairs:  it suggests that we have lost our humanity.

What would the Hebrew prophets say if they were active today? They would use every rhetorical tool in their arsenal to try to shock us out of our complacency.

Where is our moral discernment? The things that shock our consciences in most cases shouldn’t; and the things that don’t shock our consciences damned well ought to.

The rot has taken deep hold of Western capitalist-democracy and we had better repent. Disaster looms — I am increasingly convinced of it.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nebcanuck
    Dec 29, 2007 @ 17:29:26

    And I don’t think it’s just the fact that we’re unaware/unwary of the advertising going on around us; I think it’s that expectancy, the desire that that market should be so run.

    There is a certain logic that dictates that in an economically-driven world, advertising must be present. But it’s as much the push that this causes — that each story must be quickly circulated in order to ensure a high ad revenue — that strips us of the emotions. The fact that I hardly think twice about the advertisement’s presence is one thing, but the fact that I consciously recognize this story as just “one in a million” is a depressing and direct result of the advertising industry.


  2. Stephen
    Dec 29, 2007 @ 18:48:18

    True enough. And yet this example stands out for me because of (a) the graphic nature of the photograph, juxtaposed with (b) an appeal to Americans to discover new heights of luxury.

    The contrast doesn’t get more stark than that.


  3. Jack
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 01:35:50

    Where is the moral discernment of the LA Times?

    It is a good point, but it may be more “complex” than that. Chances are there are two separate groups at work here.

    The editorial side is uploading content into a content management system.

    The business/ad side is uploading ad content into a third party ad server. The advertising traffic manager may see that the ad is coded not to appear alongside specific ads, such as their competitors.

    However it is unlikely that anyone is actively monitoring the content in relation to the ad. That is not necessarily because of a moral breakdown, it is more of a functional thing.

    Not sure if that makes sense, working on limited sleep here.


  4. Stephen
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 10:16:22

    Your explanation is coherent despite your lack of sleep, Jack! But it doesn’t really detract from my point, I don’t think.

    If you’re a news organization, you have to know that some of your photographs are not going to be suitable to carry ads. That’s just the nature of the news biz. Therefore you have a responsibility to put safeguards in place to ensure that you don’t end up with a perverse result, as in this instance.

    You mention that the LA Times manages to ensure that ads do not appear alongside of a competitor’s ads. So they can manage the placement of their ads — to protect commercial interests.

    If they don’t manage the same thing re a photograph of Bhutto’s assassination, it is a moral failure, in my view.


  5. Jack
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 15:06:07

    If they don’t manage the same thing re a photograph of Bhutto’s assassination, it is a moral failure, in my view.

    I don’t disagree, but there are a number of challenges/questions.

    What would you say if the ad running alongside had been for the Red Cross, a charity or some sort of hospital? Would that make a difference?


  6. Stephen
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 17:02:02

    Sure, if the ad was for a relief agency, that would be different. But the LA Times doesn’t appear to have a system to match an appropriate ad with that sort of image.


  7. Jack
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 23:48:37

    I don’t work for the LA Times so I can’t say one way or another. They’re working as a corporation in which they try to monetize as many aspects of the site as possible.

    I suspect that there is limited human involvement in this area. And without that there certainly isn’t going to be any thought or discussion regarding what is appropriate or inappropriate to run.


  8. aaron
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 09:34:21

    Stephen, I’m afraid I don’t see how this differs from an advertiser to television news, whose ad immediately preceded or followed the coverage of the Bhutto assassination. Yes, this ad is on the same page as the photo, as opposed to before/after, but I’d argue that difference is tied to the medium rather than anything else — ads on television can be between segments, but because it’s too easy to avoid the ads otherwise, are on the same webpage as the content.

    Speaking of which (and as an additional tangential response), perhaps my morality suffers because I didn’t see the problem when I saw this photo a few days ago. And by not seeing, I mean that quite literally — the ad wasn’t below the photo, because I use firefox with adblocker. My viewing of the web is almost wholly ad-free as a result. When I use a computer without adblocker, I find I’m gnashing my teeth at the pop-ups, flashing ads, and even “regular” ads, because I’m so used to having a scrubbed page. Where my morality comes into question is that there’s a decent argument that using adblocker is the equivalent of getting something without paying for it. For some reason, however, I’ve never felt the least bit guilty about doing this.


  9. Jack
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 18:03:21

    Where my morality comes into question is that there’s a decent argument that using adblocker is the equivalent of getting something without paying for it.

    Without advertising the content would disappear.


  10. Stephen
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 19:13:13

    You have a point. I’m suspicious of capitalism in general.

    Not that it is immoral per se, because I don’t believe that it is. But the Bible certainly warns against allowing the profit motive to become the orienting principle of society, resulting in evils such as usury, contempt for sabbath days, employing dishonest weights and measures, and alienating people from their familial lands.

    The Hebrew way of framing the issues may seem quaint to us, but the principle still holds: capitalism must be kept in its place. News programs, in general, are poor venues for advertisements, whether on TV, in print, or online.


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