Matthews: How many lives is a picture worth?

Updated

Let me finish tonight with a question for you. It’s not a trick question.  It’s deadly real. You know the old expression “A picture is worth a thousand words?”  So, how many lives is it worth?

Should the United States government release a picture of the deceased Osama Bin Laden, give me your personal guess-timate of how many people will die.  

Now tell me how many people will it protect?  In countable terms - you know, life and death - what earthly good will it do? This is the basis, we should assume, of the president’s decision to keep the photo where it is, in the custody of the U.S. government.

I think we were impressed, admiring really, of how the body of bin laden was respected following his death. It was buried in the manner of his religion; more vitally, respecting the religion of the people from whom he came: the billion Islamic people of this world.

I think we did it for reasons of respect, of religious respect, but also to ensure that we did no harm to justice - fair treatment of all people - even as we brought justice to one who deserved it.

We also did it, not to cause more killing of the innocent, like that which occurred a decade ago and has since. We didn’t want to spur religious indignation, the kind of righteous indignation that leads to violence, sometimes on a mass scale.

I don’t want that photo out there.  It would go viral.  It would be manipulated, played with, who knows what, made into a music video.   For every mind on the multi-billion person planet, there is another possibility.  

One nutty preacher burns a Quran and people die in Afghanistan.  What happens when people start getting their jollies out of this on-line image of dead bin Laden?  All hell could break lose.  Some people would like nothing more.  Some people are so reckless, so juvenile, they could, with foresight or without it, start a human catastrophe for the sheer fun of it. 

I think there’s something indecent in someone “wanting” to see the picture of a dead person.  Newspapers since the beginning of the printing press have restrained showing such pictures. Why do this?  The very impulse, the very “thought” of doing it gives you something to think about.  If it is prurient for even a few, it will be infuriating for hundreds of millions. 

Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama and Hardball Photos

Matthews: How many lives is a picture worth?

Updated