Friday, September 11, 2009

AP didn’t have to run dying Marine’s photo

While I defend the right of the Associated Press to distribute the controversial picture of a mortally wounded Marine in Afghanistan, I can’t support its decision to do so.

The controversy came to light over the Labor Day weekend when Defense Secretary Robert Gates begged the AP to honor the request of the family of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard not to run a photo of the young man taken in the moments after he was shot in combat on Aug. 14.

But the AP ran the photo, anyway. While it was well within its rights to do so, was the need to publish the picture so compelling as to knowingly compound a family’s grief?

I don’t think it was, as I will discuss in a moment. First, the background:

The AP reports that it waited until after Bernard was buried on Aug 24 to show the picture to the Marine’s grieving family members, saying the agency planned to put the photo on the wire along with a story about the ambush in which he died. The family immediately objected to the publication of the picture and asked Gates to urge the AP not to do so.

After some internal soul-searching, the AP decided to publish the photo on Sept. 4 because “we believe this image is part of the history of this war,” said AP senior managing editor John Daniszewski. “The story and photos are in themselves a respectful treatment and recognition of sacrifice."

A respectful treatment? Arguably. A recognition of sacrifice? Perhaps. But historic? No. And that’s why I question the decision to run the photo.

Had the picture not generated this bit of controversy, it would have been little noted and soon forgotten, because its news value was modest. Distressing as the subject is, it unfortunately is just another of thousands of pictures of death and destruction in the long, depressing blur of images produced over eight, long years of war in the Middle East.

With solemn respect to the tragic sacrifice of this young American, this wasn’t a dramatic news photo like Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, a game-changing image like the pictures from Abu Gharib prison or an instant icon on the order of the naked girl running down a road after a napalm attack in Vietnam.

The Bernard photo was another picture of another senseless death in a string of thousands of senseless deaths. It was not particularly newsworthy, because it neither altered the well-established narrative of the conflict nor added anything appreciably new to its bloody history.

While it would it would be fully appropriate to publish the picture as breaking news or in the absence of an objection from the family, there is not sufficient journalistic value in this image to justify the pain its publication evidently has caused.

Knowing well in advance of publication of the family’s objections to the picture, the AP would have been within the bounds of responsible and, yes, compassionate journalism to not publish it.

The AP acted sensibly and sensitively when it informed the family about the picture and the story well before they were scheduled to be published. The otherwise commendable process broke down when the AP disregarded the family’s objections. It didn’t have to end that way.

Plenty of stories, pictures, sound bites and video don’t make the news every day, because editors find them to be disruptive, distasteful or otherwise offensive to common decency. Unnecessaily adding to the grief of a military family suffering a fresh loss is an offense against common sense, if not common decency.

Publishing this photo was a judgment call – the kind of decision that reporters, photographers and editors make every minute of every day. And judgment means weighing not only the quality of a story or an image but also its impact.

Although I cherish the principle of an unfettered press that can publish freely without fear or favor, there was nothing in the public interest that demanded the publication of this picture.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might add that it was not a great picture. I could see some justification if it were a Pulitzer candidate, but my subjective opinion is that it is not.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Pastor Martin Luther Dzerzhinsky Lindstedt said...

All of the above article simply goes to show in large part why the major lie-papers are simply no longer trusted to give out the real news in an honest manner. A dead soldier dying -- for no reason other than to advance the corporate or imperial agenda -- someplace in Afghanistan where there really is no reason for him to die because there really is no good reason for him to be there in the first place.

But you give some long, drawn-out rational for why the corporate and imperial interests should be advanced against that of the People wanting an end to this useless unnecessary war and like a corporate pimp trot out the family of the dead victim of that useless unnecessary war -- he fought to go to college -- in order to give this lie a sanctimonious gloss. A lie benefiting nobody but yourself.

You see, the main reason that the media and liepapers died is that most of us able to read and think for ourselves simply can't trust you media whores to do anything other than lie to us and then use some so-called excuse for doing so. You engage in lying to us by first lying to yourself. And then we are supposed to pay for all this lying by lying whores? I don't think so. At least I got some satisfaction when I left $20 on the nightstand when dealing with an honest whore, but you newsmedia whores can't even be honest with yourself.

The Vietnam War was lost when Walter Cronkite said it was lost. An accumulation of corpses photographed ahowed that even though the Army was winning every single battle, it was at a cost that America was unwilling to pay. And so the North Vietnamese won the war even though we killed millions for 60,000 of our own dead because they were fighting to unify their own country and our 60,000 were dying for a lie.

The butcher's bill, be it wholesale or retail is news. You had a duty to report it honestly. Since you didn't, when the Internet came along we went and found someone, anyone who even if they didn't know what they were talking about, would even try to tell us what we wanted, even sometimes what we needed, to hear.

Your column simply shows everyone who reads it why we abandoned you liars, you false media, you lying mangy dogs who cried "sheep." You were in the media to lie to us and make money while carrying out these evil and stupid policies. So first we shut you out from lying to us by not bothering to read or listen to your lies and by doing that we shut off the money you needed to survive in order to lie to us another day.

You are like the Bourbons, remembering everything and learning nothing. Your time is up. Couldn't you simply crawl off and die without further whining unlike that kid who got killed fighting in a foreign land in which he had no business in being in in the first place?

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The public has a right to know and see the aftermath of our decisions to send our boys and girls into battle.

It's that simple.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Testosterblogger said...

While I agree that this photo likely should not have been published, I don't know that it's the responsibility of the AP to make that call.

As a news wire service, I think they have a duty to distribute as much news and news photos as possible. It's up to their member editors and publishers to determine whether or not that content goes to the public. In my experience, most newspapers have a policy against showing dead bodies or bloody scenes in their publications.

I think the AP did its job, and if that particular photo was seen by the general public, that's more a problem of the individual papers, television media and Web sites than the AP. I can pretty much guarantee nowhere near everything distributed by wire services ever gets printed. Otherwise, we would have some really fat, uninteresting (although thorough) newspapers.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Eric Howe said...

"The public has a responsibility to know and see the aftermath of our decisions to send our boys and girls into battle."

Fixed that for you beebsblog.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Let me begin by conceding a few points; war is ugly and horrible, war is not an effective means of resolving conflicts’, in war humans are sacrificed, we deserve to know and see what goes on in war, and physical violence is a human trait dating back to the first caveman who threw a rock at another caveman, while protecting his cave and family.

With that being said, let me attempt to frame this issue in another way. Let’s say I am walking down a street and I noticed a woman wearing a provocative outfit. This woman happens to be your dear sister. I become sexually aroused by her enticing looks. I then invite her to my place for sex. She replies with a resounding “No”! What if I ignored her and raped her anyways?

In the case of, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard and his family, many believe the Bernard family has earned the right to be treated with dignity and respect. The image in questioned is not dignified. Publishing and distributing the image, after the soldier’s family said, “No” is not respectful -nor is it legal.

Not only is Mrs. Bernard grief stricken, she is horrified by AP going against her wishes. His sister feels violated. His father, a former Marine, is angry.

Some of you in your zeal to score intellectual points, at the expense of this young man, seem to lack human compassion and empathy for your fellow human beings. Others have overlooked the real issue and have gone off on a diatribe about war and freedom of the press. This is not the issue here.

The real issue is about AP and the photographer violating copy right law, rules for embedded journalists and the Bernard family being raped in public. AP in their shortsightedness has now placed all embedded journalist in grave danger. After all, where do you think Lance Cpl. Bernard’s fellow Marines stand on this issue?

Shame on AP and the other news organizations who published this image, and for raping the Bernard family in public. Those who sit back idly watching should be ashamed of yourself for allowing this to happen without objection. I hope none of you ever find yourself in this family's situation.


Lance Cpl Joshua Bernard and to all our fallen, a grateful nation honors your service. Your battle is over; rest in peace. Your courage, for our country, will forever be etched in our minds and hearts.

Jerry Castillo
US Military Fallen,
as seen on YouTube

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is it etched in our minds if we do not see it? Is it enough to only immagine it? Do we all have the background to really understand the cost of war?

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to see the outcomes we vote for.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

I would not have published. But I'm frankly upset at the pastor. Our military, and others, are in Afghanistan because we were attacked by fanatics from there. Allowing the Taliban to retake the country does not seem wise. On the other hand there is general agreement that there is no military solution, at least no permanent solution!

The media is guilty of not explaining all that better and more often, but there certainly has been sensitive if not extensive coverage.

I've worked as a journalist and teacher in 85 countries. My wife (who used to work on the 100th floor of WTC2) and I both lost friends in the attack 8 years ago today. I came of age in the 60s and protested Vietnam... and of course war in Iraq. War solves nothing! And it is messy! But tell that to the other side in this case -- The Taliban are busy destabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan and would go farther. There are no resources in that region we might want and there's one -- poppies -- we don't want. By what logic is this an issue of capitalism, blah, blah?

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am old enough to say that I have never seen a war as sanitized as the recent war in Iraq, and the current war in Afghanistan has been. It is as if there were no war because the burden is carried by an all-volunteer force drawn largely from rural America where job prospects are bleakest. There was a huge demonstration in Washington this weekend against government spending and deficits, and yet I didn't see a single sign protesting the wars that are contributing to these costs. There are days when there are no stories on Afghanistan on the front page. So I welcome anything that brings home the fact that we are at war, and that a consequence of this is that Americans are dying overseas. If it takes a picture of a dead soldier, so be it.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous greeneyeshade said...

I suspect that the greatest push for publishing that photo came from people who hold that, as a couple of commenters say, "war solves nothing."
Well, war can never be more than a necessary evil, and many, perhaps most, wars are not even that. But "war solves nothing"? Tell that to the people who would have been slaves in 19th-century America, or soap or ashes in 20th-century Europe.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Clarence Cromwell said...

You're not leaving much latitude for war reporters. Are they supposed to go to the other end of the world and then not send back photos of the war? What would they photograph?
What part of the war is sanitary enough for us?
I think the test is a lot simpler than what you have proposed. If I am allowed to witness something and write about it as a reporter, like a casualty of war, then a reporter should be allowed to photograph it.
And if it is possible to see something with my own eyes, and not question whether it is immoral or improper, then there's no reason to think it is improper for a photojournalist to take a picture.
We have to get rid of the popular assumption that when you take something perfectly innocent and multiply it by several thousand, it becomes immoral.

9:35 PM  

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