Tuesday, June 05, 2012


“I didn’t see the bite, I saw the aftermath.”

Last year I did a piece called Vultures at the Feast which got pretty wide attention for its focus on the way images are used to shape perception and how reporters get fixated on the story and ignore what they're doing to other people.

And its happened again in a particularly gruesome way. Every so often, a reporter from the big city will go down to the sticks and do a piece on how weird rural people are. The reporter this time is Lauren Pond, and she works for the Washington Post. She went down to West Virginia and took pictures of a snake handling event at a church service.

The snake bit reverend Randall "Mack” Wolford. He died, writhing in pain on his mother's couch, as Pond took pictures. She didn't call for medical assistance, she just recorded the man's pointless death and wrote down what she saw. She calls Wolford a friend, and yet she didn't try to get him medical assistance.
“This is what I saw through my camera lens: Pastor Randy “Mack” Wolford, tossing and turning on the couch in his mother-in-law’s West Virginia trailer, suffering from the pain of a rattlesnake bite he had received earlier in the day,” Pond wrote in the Post.

“Parishioners surrounding him in prayer in the stifling heat. His mother stroking his feet, her expression a mixture of concern, sorrow and, eventually, acceptance: This is how her eldest son — a legend in the local Pentecostal serpent-handling community — would die.”

Pond said, “Camera in hand, I watched as the man I’d photographed and gotten to know over the past year writhed, turned pale and slipped away, a victim of his unwavering faith, but also a testament to it.”
Typically you won't die from a rattlesnake bite, but only if you get medical help. Then its just really painful and you're sick for a while. If you do not, you can die, and the closer the bite is to your heart, the more likely it is. You're especially likely to die if nobody does anything to help.

The members of his family and church believed God would either protect and heal Wolford or call him home, that was up to God. Christians know we're all one day going to die unless Christ returns, so when is not as important as how and why. But Post didn't believe that. She just saw a story.

And this gruesome tendency of reporters to "not interfere" with a story in some twisted sense of objectivity and being an impassive recorder is ghastly. Yes, that child will die unless you do something, what's your choice: take pictures or help? This reporter took pictures.

Would it have upset the parishioners and family for her to call 911? Probably. Would it have saved the pastor's life? Almost certainly. Would they have gotten over the reporter's phone call? Absolutely. Will the pastor get over being dead?

Not in this life.


Eric said...

I've got to disagree here. I think if adults want to refuse medical treatment for religious reasons, we have an obligation to comply. I'd take issue if we are talking about a child whose death could easily be prevented, but in this case I don't think the reporter did anything wrong.

Eric said...

I'd also point out that the reporter here does not defend her actons based on journalistic neutrality, but on the baseis of acknowledging this man's religious beliefs: “In my mind, Mack’s situation was different from that of a starving child or a civilian wounded in war. He was a competent adult who decided to stand by what he understood to be the word of God, no matter the consequences. And so I’ve started to come to peace with the fact that everyone in the crowded trailer, including myself, let Mack die as a man true to his faith,”

Christopher R Taylor said...

People can have their religious beliefs all they want, but if someone's dying in front of me and I don't do all I can to help, there's something wrong with ME.

JoelAT said...

Here is where I feel the faith based healing believers miss the boat. God created man and everything about him, including the mind he gave so that the sciences could exist. Medical science is thereby given to mankind by God, refusing medical help is a slap in the face to God. It in itself is the method which God chooses to answer prayer. Calling 911 and having this man attended to by Gods gift of medical science would have potentially saved him, so that he could continue his work. She should have called, we are not merely observers in this life, we are participants.

Eric said...

Joe, I agree with your take on faith based healing, but I also believe another adult's religious beliefs trump my own suppositions when it comes to matters of their own health. Even in matters of life and death. Hell, ESPECIALLY in matters of life and death.

Melbourne Star said...

The man wasn't all there as far as I can see. Either way, my guess is that he'd have benefitted from a snake handler course and then been better able to avoid a bite or at least known when the snake was most likely to.