Suicide of Budd Dwyer

Pennsylvania State Treasurer, Budd Dwyer had just been convicted of bribery. Due to a loophole in Pennsylvania law, Dwyer continued serving as state treasurer until his sentencing, writing to President Reagan for a presidential pardon. On January 22, 1987, the day before his sentencing, Dwyer called a press conference. Journalists expected Dwyer’s resignation from state government. Instead they heard the long, rambling last words of a seriously troubled man, who fashioned his persecution as ‘American gulag’.

Then Dwyer pulled out a .357 magnum, long barrel pistol from a manila envelope and waved back reporters, “Please leave the room if this will affect you.” Against the pleas of many in attendance, he stuck the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger, in front of five television news cameras. His public suicide created moral dilemma for editors around the country: Should any pictures be printed? Should more graphic or less graphic pictures be used? Should only one or a complete series of pictures be printed? On what page should the pictures be displayed? How large should the pictures be? Should color or black-and-white pictures be used?

Journalism researcher Robert Baker studied the 93 daily newspapers and found “Newspapers more than 200 miles away from the victim’s hometown were two-and-a-half times as likely to use the ‘very graphic’ photographs than those within 100 miles” According to Baker, 58% of newspapers used “very graphic” suicide photographs, justifying their actions by editorials along the similar lines on “photos had tremendous impact as a news story”.

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0 thoughts on “Suicide of Budd Dwyer

  1. The film of the suicide is pretty ghastly would be surprized at how much blood the human body contains..

  2. I wonder if that convicted Felon had a permit for that cannon.

    The biggest irony I suppose is the censorship still being exercised today by the “free press”. Well thank God for the internet, I guess.

  3. Interesting research on the news outlets’ quandary over whether or not to run the photos. I was working at my city’s newspaper on Sept. 11, 2001, and we had long, wrenching debates over what photos of the attacks to run and how/where to run them. It’s touchy stuff; you want to convey the horror of the event as effectively as possible, but you don’t want to disturb readers unnecessarily.

    I can say with certainty that no journalist I’ve ever met has subscribed to the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. They agonize over this stuff.

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