Why photojournalists were right to show you Gov. Dayton collapsing

Of all of the ludicrous, misplaced, and, frankly, chilling criticisms and intimidation of the free press in recent days, none rises to the level of absurdity as the criticism leveled against the Minnesota media overnight for showing this.

Gov. Dayton fainted during the State of the State speech in the House of Representatives last night and local journalists had no choice but to tell you he did. It’s their job.

“Let’s be respectful and not post these pictures for cripes sake,” one person on Twitter replied to Star Tribune photojournalist Glen Stubbe’s posting.

Here’s a better idea: Let’s not.

For the record, of course, it was a horrifying sight to see. A 70-year-old man collapsing, instinctively makes us want to look away, just as House TV panned away from the scene moments after it happened. The governor’s slurred speech just before he went down only added to the alarm, which hasn’t been assuaged by the good news that the governor appears to have recovered.

But the time and the place dictates decisions such as this and there simply are no compelling reasons for journalists to shield viewers and readers from a potentially monumental moment in state history. This is journalism, not public relations, and sometimes it’s ugly and uncomfortable.

There can and should be little expectation of privacy for a governor, and there certainly can be none for one delivering the State of the State speech.

Yes, it is personally embarrassing to collapse at such a moment. It is horrifying to watch.

So was this.

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

And this…

An unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. A gunman in a suit and tie shouted slogans about Syria’s civil war after he killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in front of stunned onlookers at a photo exhibition in the Turkish capital on Monday, according to an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the shooting. Police later killed the assailant, Turkish station NTV reported. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

And this…

And, of course, this…

George H. W. Bush and Kiichi Miyazawa. In which President George Bush vomits and faints at a Japanese state dinner on January 9, 1992. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

People always have the option of turning away, but there is no alternative when a free press sanitizes news and, potentially, history. It’s not a role any responsible citizen should be urging upon journalists. They ought not be assigned as guardians of dignity at the expense of providing important information to the people they serve.

What can we learn by seeing the video of Gov. Dayton’s collapse?

Most important, we can learn that the explanations surrounding the incident aren’t adding up to the lay-person.

Within a few minutes of his collapse, politicial officials noted Dayton was “fine” and was joking as he walked out of the Capitol.

His son provided us with the comfort we were seeking when he assured us his dad was OK.

He said the governor went back to the Governor’s Mansion and worked on a puzzle with his grandson.

Dayton’s staff issued this statement:

Perhaps if people weren’t so concerned about journalists doing journalism, they instead could have noticed that, from afar, none of this makes any sense.

Who collapses after slurring speech and then goes home and not to a hospital for a full medical checkout? Why are EMTs — not doctors — monitoring him at his home? Why is his staff still pointing out that he’ll be at the Capitol today to issue a new budget?

Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, a doctor, was one of the people who rushed to Dayton’s side. He told MPR’s Cathy Wurzer this morning the governor’s pulse was “in the thirties.” He checked for signs of a possible stroke.

“I have many patients who faint multiple times,” he said. “I think Gov. Dayton works very hard and, like most people, he’s his own worst enemy” about taking care of himself.

  1. Listen MPR’s Cathy Wurzer talks with Sen. Scott Jensen about Gov. Dayton’s collapse

    January 24, 2017

A year ago, Dayton, who has had serious health problems from back woes, fainted at a dinner in Woodbury. He spent the night at the hospital. His staff said he was being treated for dehydration.

That’s the expected course of action at moments such as this and to the extent it wasn’t last night is, itself, cause for additional concern.

Perhaps there’s a good explanation for why a similar reasonable and cautious approach to the governor’s care wasn’t the order of the day last night. No doubt, some will insist it’s disrespectful and none of our business to ask.

They’re wrong.