Chapter 2:
   The Rhetoric of the Real: Videotape as Evidence

Video still from dashboard camera video tape evidence
posted on the World Wide Web by the United States Supreme Court.

The authors talk about Chapter 2: The Rhetoric of the Real

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Chapter 2, The Rhetoric of the Real: Videotape as Evidence, discusses the appeal of the photographic picture or video in seeming to give us direct, objective access to reality – what we call “naïve realism.”  Such pictures actually may tell us both much less and much more than we think they do.  They tell us much less if we ignore the effects of the technology, the frame, and the context (or lack thereof) on what appears in or is excluded from the picture.  At the same time, photographs tell us much more because all pictures trigger cognitive and emotional associations, some beneath the threshold of consciousness, that may influence what we see in the picture and what it means to us.  How do lawyers or others enlist naïve realism in the face of photographic or video evidence to support debatable claims about what happened, and how are competing claims made visible?

We address these questions in two case studies.  In the first, the Supreme Court of the United States treated videos taken by a dashcam on a police cruiser as dispositive proof of the crucial factual issue:  whether a speeding driver posed a great enough risk to public safety to justify the police’s use of deadly force to stop the chase.  In the second, police and citizen videographers captured the action in the streets during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.  Challenges to the authenticity of some of that video evidence played a crucial role in efforts to prosecute one man caught up in the protests.  In both cases, claims that video footage directly and unproblematically represented the real were also addressed to public audiences beyond the courts.  We pursue this theme onto the Internet, where citizen videos of interactions with police officers have been appearing more and more often, but in fragmentary and shifting contexts.  How will the justice system sort all of this out?

Below we provide links for video material discussed in this chapter, as well as an even newer form of videography.  Most of the links are to videotapes of encounters between the police and the public. Our aim is not to make a political statement, but to invite you, by watching the videos and then reading the book, to appreciate that video evidence is far more complex than it seems at first glance. 

Scott v. Harris:

The Supreme Court itself posted the video evidence.  While the presentation of tape on the Web appears to be one long clip, it actually contains material from two police dashcam videos.  The first is from Officer Clinton Reynolds’ car (078), the second from Officer Timothy Scott’s car (066). Scroll down to find the combined tape (plays on Real Player) at:

The French Connection car chase.  A selection of clips :

Film editing glossary:

Smash Mouth song on police radio “Then the Morning Comes” - Lyrics:

Music Video:

The Scott opinion was cited by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Buckley v. Haddock, another police brutality claim involving dashcam video evidence.  After the Eleventh Circuit granted summary judgment to the police officers, Buckley’s attorney posted the dashcam video evidence at:

The Dunlop case and the Republican National Convention in New York, 2004
Video report by Jim Dwyer, a reporter for the New York Times, that shows a police officer with a camera: =x&rf=sv&fr_story=8be43bbe911fe4027477fad3f56017ec4672d86c

See also the picture gallery at:

Radio interview of Alexander Dunlop:

The police video on which Dunlop appears, proferred by the Diustrict Attorney, had been altered.  The New York Times published an analysis of the changes made to the tape (link to the right of the story) “Cut and Uncut”:

Other police photos: