Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed disappointment Friday at news outlets that used a picture taken and distributed by The Associated Press depicting a U.S. Marine mortally wounded in combat in Afghanistan.
The AP distributed the picture despite personal pleas from Gates and the dead Marine's family in a case that illustrated the difficult decisions in reporting on a conflict where Americans have seen relatively few images of fallen U.S. troops over eight years.
The picture, by AP photographer Julie Jacobson, showed Lance Cpl. Joshua "Bernie" Bernard, 21, lying on the ground with severe leg injuries after being struck by a grenade in an ambush on Aug. 14, his fellow Marines tending to him. Bernard later died of his wounds.
Secretary Gates seems to be saying the same thing as the family, basically that it's a question of "judgment and common decency" not to use the photo. I'm a little suspicious of that. What do you think? Isn't it more likely that the government has an interest in keeping the war sanitized in order to continue getting away with it? Remember all that business a year or two ago about the returning coffins never being allowed in TV?
John Daniszewski, AP senior managing editor, said he respected Gates' view but that sometimes the government and press have different perspectives.
"We thought that the image told a story of sacrifice; it told a story of bravery," Daniszewski said. "We felt that the picture told a story that people needed to see and be aware of."
That sounds about right to me, what do you think?
Gates wrote that use of the photo of a wounded Bernard would mark an "unconscionable departure" from the restraint that most journalists have shown in covering the military since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The AP did not change its decision.
"Why your organization would purposely defy the family's wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me," Gates wrote. "Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple newspapers is appalling."
I don't believe that for a second. I don't believe publishing the picture could increase the anguish of the family. Even if they themselves request privacy and to be left alone, I'm wondering what could possibly increase the suffering of losing a 21-year-old child? Compared to the loss itself, the treatment in the media would be inconsequential.
Yet Secretary Gates is pushing this as the reason. I don't buy it.
I say it's a mistake for us to be there in the first place and the suppression of photos like this has played a part in the continuance of it.
The controversy over the picture is very real however.
The AP had received dozens of e-mails and phone calls about its decision by mid-Friday, many of them critical, Colford said. It was a topic on Twitter, with one tweet saying: "as the wife of a retired Marine, and the mother of a soldier who is now in Afghanistan, I find the AP's `choice' to be a disgusting one."
The AP received an e-mail from some former military supporting its decision. Dan Cahalan, an Afghanistan veteran, wrote that "this is one of the realest accounts from a journalist I have ever read and just wanted to thank (Jacobson) for her honest reporting of the war."
Jorge Ruiz of Glendale, Ariz., said he and other ex-Marines had often talked about the sanitation of war and the social implications of a lack of images showing what war is really like.
"Death and the ugliness of war is not something we look forward to but a necessity to put the war in its proper context," said Ruiz, who also wrote the AP. "A picture is worth a thousand words. I applaud your courage to distribute the photo and the story of the death of Lance Cpl. Bernard."
What's your opinion? Is it right or wrong to publish graphic pictures of the war? Should the family's opinion be respected? Why couldn't they simply publish other photos about which the families don't object?
Do you believe the government has had an agenda to keep the war out of the living rooms of America in order to maintain whatever public approval they could?
Please leave a comment.