How will we remember David Haines?
Sunday 14 September 2014
This is the sort of am-dram collect photograph that most picture editors would give their eye teeth for when tragedy strikes. It's attractive, sharp and a variation on the wedding shot that most often accompanies stories about people who come into the public eye only through their deaths.
But this isn't the image our papers have chosen to project today in reporting the murder of David Haines. Instead we once again have a parade of front pages dominated by a video still of an unidentifiable man in black standing over a kneeling man in orange robes.
In this case, the kneeling man is holding himself upright, showing no signs of flinching from the knife in his killer's hand. We can read into that an element of courage, defiance even, but no more. The photograph of David Haines about to meet his death adds nothing to our knowledge of the man or his killer - whom we have charmingly nicknamed "Jihadi John".
But it will add greatly to the distress of his wife, Dragana, who has for 19 months kept her counsel about the fact that he had been kidnapped, who has shielded her four-year-old daughter from the truth about her father's fate.
When he was identified after appearing in the video of the murder of Steven Sotloff, Mrs Haines said that she could not bear to tell her little girl what had happened and was holding on to the hope that her husband would be freed:
He's everything to us. He's our life. He's a fantastic man and father. Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My daughter keeps asking about him every day. She hasn't seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time.
Haines also has a 17-year-old daughter from an earlier marriage. Just imagine how she must have been feeling this past year and a half at the most pressured time in anyone's school career.
How are these people meant to cope not only with the loss of their husband and father, but also with the knowledge that a video of his death is whizzing round the world, that people are clamouring to see it?
When James Foley was murdered last month, his family asked people not to watch or share the video of his death, but to post pictures of him alive and active before his kidnapping. It was a wise approach, but one that our papers don't seem able to grasp.
Over the following week, the Sun printed a still from the video on five days out of seven, often as a drop-in single - just in case we'd forgotten what it was all about. There is little danger of that.
Last week SubScribe noted that the Mirror and Sun each used seven video stills, the Star six and the Mail five in the space of two days after the Sotloff murder.
SubScribe shows all the front pages every day, but has resolutely not published the inside coverage of this running story. Today, however, I wonder how the conversation on the Mirror backbench went last night as this spread was being put together:
Five orange robe pictures? Five. Three from the previous videos and two from the latest atrocity. And the irony of the top single heading: "Such blatant attempt to shock world". Well, why do their work for them?
Until last month most of us had never heard of David Haines. From now on he will be remembered by the world as the third hostage - and the first Briton - to be murdered as part of the Isis propaganda campaign.
If he is remembered, that is. What are the odds that many of us will have to rack our brains to recall his name when he crops up in the Christmas quizzes?
Yes, that sounds callous. It is. David Haines was, by all accounts, a good man, but he was not a public figure. He has entered briefly into our consciousness because he was used as a weapon in a propaganda war.
His family and friends will always remember, however. And they deserve better than to see him presented to the world as a brave but helpless victim.
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