Gruesome photographs of Palestinian children killed in rocket strikes and Israeli infants murdered by terrorists. Digitally doctored images that whip around social media before they can be verified. Accusations — since rejected by multiple news outlets — that photojournalists had advance knowledge of the Hamas surprise attack on Oct. 7.
The visual chronicle of the war between Israel and Hamas has become its own disturbing case study of the age of disinformation, when photographs, and the act of photojournalism itself, are weaponized by both sides of a highly charged conflict. For newsrooms in the United States and Europe, the question of which images to publish — and which are too graphic or misleading to be published — has rarely been more complex.
“In every war, there is a war of narratives,” said Jonathan Levy, the executive editor of Sky News. “You’ve got to be really mindful, not just of the potential harm to the audience of being exposed to some of that imagery, but also how you manage it.”
In interviews, editors at newspapers, TV stations and wire agencies said they had devoted countless hours in recent weeks to what many said was ultimately a delicate judgment call: deciding what their audiences saw and heard about the war. Among the factors is how much horror a viewer or reader can tolerate, and whether an image sensationalizes or trivializes violence. News outlets also feel a responsibility to victims and their families, who may not be aware that a relative has been killed or badly injured.
“You want to get the most realistic view of what’s happening on the ground; you want to show the pictures,” said Greg Headen, who oversees domestic and international coverage at Fox News. “In many cases, though, we cannot. Some of the images we have seen are so gruesome, they can’t even be described on TV.”
Some footage is so traumatic, Mr. Headen added, that to air it would render viewers numb to the spoken words accompanying the video: “The bottom line is, they’re not going to hear a word your reporter said.”