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CNN Exec: We Won't Run ISIS Captive Video; Network Is 'Big Deal in the Middle East'

CNN Exec: We Won't Run ISIS Captive Video; Network Is 'Big Deal in the Middle East'

On Sunday’s broadcast of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Tony Maddox, the executive vice president and managing director of CNN International, explained why his network determined it was not appropriate to air the latest ISIS video that apparently showed British journalist James Cantlie speaking in captivity.

“What we’re seeing is a form of torture,” Maddox said. “This man is really trying to perform to save his life. Why would we showcase that?”

“We know that ISIS wanted us to show it,” he added. “And if we’re in a situation where ISIS wants us to show anything, we should think really carefully about any way we can avoid doing that.”

Maddox went on to suggest that giving the ISIS video air time would possibly legitimize the terror organization and damage CNN’s brand name in the Middle East.

“CNN is a big deal,” he said. “It’s certainly a big deal in the Middle East. I’m responsible for CNN outside of the U.S. We are in hundreds of millions of TV sets around the world. And if CNN chooses not to run something, then that does matter and it does count for something, particularly if we explain that we’re not running it.”

Transcript as follows:

STELTER: Tony, thanks for joining me.

MADDOX: No problem, Brian.

STELTER: The first question is about that video on Thursday. CNN decided not to show what the hostage says. Why is that?

MADDOX: Because he was clearly making the video under duress.

Now, I agree, in the — his appearance the video, he seemed relatively relaxed and straightforward. But let’s be clear. This man knows that the chances of him dying on camera, being beheaded, are very high. And he has to say what will please the people who are operating the camera and who are making the video.

So, what we’re seeing is a form of torture, really, in which this man is really trying to perform to save his life. And why would we showcase that? He didn’t say anything that we haven’t heard 1,000 times before. We know he wasn’t speaking of his own free will. We know that ISIS wanted us to show it.

And if ever we’re in a situation in which ISIS wants us to show anything, we should think really carefully about any way in which we can avoid doing that. So, for me, the editorial returns were not worth the ethical compromises involved in showing that film. And that’s why CNN took the decision not to show it.

STELTER: How does this differ from the earlier videos that ISIS released, particularly of the Americans and of the — the two American journalists and the British aid worker who were executed on camera? The executions of course were not televised by CNN, but there were some images and in some cases short video clips of those videos that were shown.

MADDOX: Yes. I think that’s a really interesting point, Brian, because my position on this continues to evolve.

My feeling was with the James Foley video that we hadn’t seen one of these in a long, long time, and this was a shocking development.

STELTER: Right. Right.

MADDOX: Then, when we saw a second one with Sotloff, you thought, oh, my goodness, this is a pattern that’s forming now. The third one, well, that was with the Brits. So, what impact is this going to have with the Brits and the wider part of the struggle?

Each of those videos in its own way became a part of the narrative of what response we’re going to do to ISIS. So, in its own way, the audience had to have some sense of what this was being based on. Those videos did drive the debate within the U.S. They drove government policy and beyond as well.

So, at that point, we couldn’t really be talking about videos which are doing that without showing them. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep showing them. That point has sort of been made now. People know what these consist of. And I think we can afford to be increasingly judicious about what it is that we want to show.

For me, the Cantlie video absolutely shouldn’t have been shown. I think it was an obscene video. I think it’s quite disgusting. The “Flames of War,” I was actually less bothered by, except that it was turning it all into an action movie.

STELTER: Yes. This is the trailer they came out with, and then on Friday, this 55-minute movie, which CNN also decided not to show the movie part of it.

MADDOX: Yes. What I think is interesting about the first part, the trailer, was that this clearly isn’t ideological. This is about action movie. It’s just trying to get people to recruit, to sign up, to be part of this group. And it’s all to build into their aura of terror.

ISIS is a profoundly wicked organization. It doesn’t just kill people. It humiliates them, it parades them, it tortures them, and then it robs them of every single ounce of dignity and publicizes that in the widest possible way.

You have got to be prepared to recalibrate what you’re prepared to show and what you’re not prepared to show on an hourly basis, on a case-by-case basis when dealing with an organization like that.

STELTER: There are other — there are countries that do engage in beheadings. There are other terror groups that do engage in this kind of wicked behavior, as you said. Do you think that these kinds of decisions we’re making about this particular video should apply to those others as well?

MADDOX: Well, I think they do.

I think it’s a very big thing for us to show anything like a beheading or someone being killed on camera. As one of the policies we do have at CNN, we do try and avoid that wherever possible. There are exceptional circumstances where we will show a shooting in the distance, or — we did a piece recently with Nic Robertson which was actually summarizing the excesses of ISIS.

And I think that was important, because we properly contextualized the piece. We teed up the audience what it consisted of. And folks needed to get a sense of the breadth of all the different things that they have been involved in, given that the images had sneaked out on a piecemeal basis.

I think if you do it like that, and you showcase it like that and you present it like that, then I think there’s a legitimacy to it. But, otherwise, I think we can’t just get into this because it’s arresting video. And we do know it’s arresting video.

STELTER: Right.

MADDOX: Let’s look at it. We’re in the TV business. We know that certain images will catch the eye. We know that certain images will get lots of people to click on online.

So, there’s always a temptation for people who are in the business of trying to get people to follow their stories and read their stories to use the best images available. But with that goes a certain responsibility. Now, if you remember the conversation, Brian, one of the issues is, if we don’t run it, what if other people run it?

And that’s a perfectly fair point. But CNN is a big deal. It’s certainly a big deal in the Middle East. I’m responsible for CNN outside of the U.S. We are in hundreds of millions of TV sets around the world. And if CNN chooses not to run something, then that does matter and it does count for something, particularly if we explain that we’re not running it.

STELTER: Tony Maddox, thanks for being here this morning.

MADDOX: Thank you.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

 

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