Should graphic Russell Williams photos go on the front page?
Torontonians picking up their morning papers today didn’t really have much of a choice: the nastiness of the Russell Williams trial in Belleville has made it to the front pages of all of the major dailies. But Toronto’s newsies did choose different pictures to go on their front pages. (Editor’s note: The following links are to images of the papers’ front pages, and some are upsetting. For readers who want to see the covers, we’ve added them to a slide show at the bottom of the post.)
The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun both ran photos of Williams wearing the underwear of his victims on the front page, while the Globe and Mail and National Post did not. The Star is getting a large share of criticism because the photo it ran is so large and prominent on the page; the Sun’s seems less prominent.
The debate is pretty one-sided on Twitter: Globe-ster Brodie Fenlon writes, “We, as media, fight every day for access to court exhibits. Star undermines our cause by not being responsible with them,” and he’s pretty representative. Responding to claims that the Star is simply serving the public interest, Maclean’s Scott Feschuk writes, “It’s never pretty when the media gets to cloak their lurid instincts in the guise of doing a duty.”
Responding to the criticism, John Cruickshank told CBC’s Metro Morning that the Star decided to run the photos because “that pair of photos…tell an extraordinarily disturbing story.”
“I think there probably is harm, but there’s also a greater good,” said Cruickshank. Defending the Star against the inevitable charge that its goal was simply to sell papers, Cruickshank says that if anything, this will probably hurt the Star’s circulation and certainly enrage advertisers.
The “public interest” defence seems like a red herring; the Globe and the Post both managed to avoid the front-page shocker, and it’s hard to argue they’ve failed to inform the public. What’s upsetting a lot of people, it seems, is that basically the front pages of Toronto’s dailies are impossible to miss: the morning commute takes us past them all the time. Putting Williams in lingerie on the front page takes the choice away from a paper’s readers.