Routine Coverage Turns Deadly p. 10

By: M.L. Stein

Political speech results in assassination; newspaper publishes
reporter’s tape-recorded account and photog’s controversial image sp.

WHAT BEGAN FOR San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Gregory Gross as routine coverage of a political speech, ended as a vivid tape-recorded account of an assassination.
For photographer Robert Gauthier, the murder produced a chilling ? and controversial ? color picture that got worldwide exposure.
Gross’ recording, which ran as a sidebar to his main story in the newspaper, described the sights and sounds of the recent fatal shooting in Tijuana of Luis Donaldo Colosio, 44, the leading candidate to become the next president of Mexico.
The 43-year-old reporter, who works out of the Union-Tribune’s Tijuana bureau and is fluent in Spanish, kept his tape recorder running when a lone gunman fired at Colosio during an outdoor rally March 23.
Here is part of the recording as published in the Union-Tribune
“One man has been injured . . . he’s being carried across the creek . . . badly bleeding!
(Sounds of sirens of the ambulance carrying Colosio. Car horns honking.)
“One man . . . no shirt . . . blood on him . . . being taken away by others. I don’t know who.
“The crowd . . . is angry . . . and getting worse. Rally organizers in the crowd with bullhorns . . . calling for calm. They’re not getting any.
“The shots were fired . . . at Colosio . . . Luis Donaldo Colosio may have been shot . . . Luis Donaldo Colosio may have been shot!
“The man . . . who apparently fired the shot . . . two shots . . . woman in the background screaming, ‘Matelo!’ (Kill him!) . . . with a large handgun being borne off in the crowd . . . with the people following behind . . . very angry . . . with the people shouting ‘Kill him!’ . . . over and over . . . people in the crowd are weeping . . . screaming . . . shouting obscenities.
“People are surrounding the gunman . . . the suspect . . . trying to protect him . . . from the crowd.
“We’ve stopped . . . moving backwards . . . they’re trying to load him
. . . into a gray Chevrolet Suburban . . .
people are reaching . . . trying to hit him . . . fists . . . hands . . . anything
. . . . “
“The doors are open . . . people are climbing into the Suburban . . . cameramen are trying to get pictures . . . he’s in the vehicle . . . . They’re closing the doors . . . they’re driving off . . . through the crowd . . . through the media . . . . “
Gauthier’s photo of the mortally wounded Colosio on the ground, his head and jacket bloodied and a pool of blood near him, was on the 37th frame of a 36-frame roll of film.
More than 250 readers called or wrote the newspaper to complain about the photo, many vowing to cancel their subscriptions.
But Union-Tribune editor Gerald Warren defended the picture, saying that its news value outweighed the knowledge that some people would be offended by it.
Warren was quoted in a follow up story as saying: “I just took one [call] from a mother who said she was shocked and her sensibilities were jolted. Mine were, too . . . . But I certainly believe we had to print the picture. We have to reflect reality.
“I personally do not believe there is a more compelling piece of evidence of the need to fight violence than that picture.
Warren also pointed out that the story is a major one for Mexico, which of the Union-Tribune covers.
Managing editor Doug Hope told E&P that later the paper received several calls and letters from readers who supported publication of the photo.
“Their feelings seemed to be that it was a horrible act, so the picture had to be horrible,” Hope related.
Gauthier’s picture was moved by the Associated Press. It also was purchased by Time and CIPA, a French news agency for worldwide distribution.
The Dallas Morning News was among the other newspapers receiving complaints about the picture. Editor and publisher Burl Osborne supported its use and added in a reply to readers: ” . . . hindsight tells us we might have done differently. Had the photograph been used in a smaller size, perhaps in black and white rather than color, those who found it offensive might have been less aggrieved.”
The Orange County Register featured the picture in black and white on the front page and did not receive a single complaint, according to ombudsman Pat Riley.
The Sacramento Bee displayed it inside in black and white and got one complaint, said ombudsman Art Nauman.
Gauthier, 32, whose pants and shoes were spattered with Colosio’s blood, also defended using the photo.
“If we start trying to soft-pedal something like this, we’ll be letting down the reader,” he said.
Gauthier said his first reaction at seeing his developed film was relief that he had got the major shot in the last frame.
“Basically, while it was happening, all I could think about was doing my job,” he recalled.
“I didn’t understand the gravity of it until later.”
?( More than 250 readers called or wrote the newspaper to complain about this photo many vowing to cancel their subscriptions.) [Caption & Photo]

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