Afghanistan

A Free Press Is an Ugly Press

Why the public should see controversial and disturbing images of war

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Why did The Associated Press—and newspapers across the country—run the controversial and disturbing images of an American Marine dying in Afghanistan? The AP said it was "to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it."

It succeeded. Fortunately, we are not a nation of trembling children powerless to discern between news and exploitation. And it is, despite the anger surrounding the AP's decision, the job of the press to offer citizens a glimpse—albeit slight, in this case—of the war they cover.

When photographer Julie Jacobson was patrolling with a Marine unit that came under attack in southern Afghanistan, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and died of his injuries. Embedded, Jacobson had photos of the unit prior to the attacks, of Bernard's death, of the evacuation, and of the memorial service Bernard's fellow Marines held for him after his death. She did her job admirably.

Yet Sarah Palin, echoing the blistering condemnation of some conservatives and others, called the move a "heartless and selfish decision to turn its back on the wishes of a grieving family in order to exploit the tragic death of a true American hero." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a "scathing" letter to Tom Curley, president and CEO of the AP, bemoaning his "lack of compassion and common sense" and "judgment and common decency" for defying "the family's wishes."

When looking at the photo series, "Death of a Marine," I felt a heightened respect for the gravity of war. The pictures unquestionably added humanity and context to Bernard's death.

Now, if I could recall a wanton penchant of the press to run photos of dead Marines, my reaction might have been very different.

It is also conceivable, of course, that I'm a callous journalist, willing to set aside all decency to quench my baser voyeuristic instincts. There is an undeniable emotional component to these pictures that can't be disregarded. It is unfathomable to imagine the anguish the Bernard family must feel.

Yet the awful reality remains. As cruel as it sounds, those concerns should not guide the journalist's decision-making process; the press can't be solely beholden to notions of decency or compassion—subjective, as they are in most cases—when it has a duty to follow a story wherever it goes.

Whether the mainstream press has abdicated this obligation in certain circumstances is a matter of useful discussion (unquestionably, the AP's cowardly refusal to distribute the Muhammad cartoons in 2006 for fear of upsetting some Muslims was a perfect example of this surrender), but trying to limit the media's capacity to cover war is no way to make it more accountable.

It was only recently that the Pentagon finally rescinded the misguided restriction on the media's ability to photograph military caskets, overturning the ban instituted by President George H.W. Bush at the time of the Gulf War. Our delicate constitutions can handle the debate over war. Obviously—at the risk of dropping a massive cliché on readers—the troops exist to defend the First Amendment and things like it, as ugly as they may find the results.

There is now some question as to whether the agreement with the AP stipulated next-of-kin permission to publish pictures of deceased or wounded military personnel. That issue should be investigated.

But on the debate over the substance of these pictures, the press has one overriding question to ask: Do the photos help citizens better understand the story of the war in Afghanistan?

Obviously, they do.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 THE DENVER POST
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  1. Absolutely. Hiding from the full truth of what we’re doing is wrong and leads to poor decision making. I suppose the idea comes from the probative vs. prejudicial distinction made in determining whether evidence should make it to the jury, but we’re not in a court of law.

  2. comfort and condolences to Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard’s family, friends, and loved ones.

    We shouldn’t run and hide from these realities. Ignoring them or minimizing them serves more of a dishonor than introducing us to someone who was willing to sacrifice, and sadly did.

  3. Hmmm, would they show such images in China?

  4. As someone who spent a significant part of his childhood in a country that was full of violent civil unrest (terrorist bombings, assasination etc) I can tell you that most Americans have a complete lack of understanding of what war or violent conflict entails. Americans have really no referent to abstract cocnepts like collateral damage.

    If the common citizenry really saw the gore that the government establishment produces in their jihad to impose their incohate visions of global harmony, support for the U.S. millitary would drop to levels that made the 1970’s look like good times for people in uniform.

    Note that the poeple pushing the meme about not showing coffins are government officials peddling that t somehow insults grieving families. They government recognizes that most Americans are decent folk and know which buttons to push to make that decency work for them.

  5. Jesus Americans are a bunch of fucking pussies. We want our wars clean. We don’t want to have to think about the icky stuff…like people getting their fucking livers blown out so politicians can parade around with their trite tautologic sloganism.
    Sorry America, didn’t want you to take you away from your Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, NASCAR and NFL worship to have think about the killing and dying that is being done in your name. Ok all is well now so you can go back fucking off texting at work…if you have a job.

  6. As he argues, despite the anger surrounding the AP’s decision, it is the job of the press to offer citizens a glimpse-albeit slight, in this case-of the war they cover.

    I would have a lot more sympathy for this argument if the AP was running pictures of Afghan civilians brutalized and killed by the Taliban.

    Even so, I got no problem with the picture of the Marine.

  7. 1) Let me start by saying that the AP has every right to publish the pic. I don’t care what agreement they signed prior to embedding the reporter. The 1st amendment covers this.

    2) Now let me say that I am queasy about this. The only sensibilities I care about are of the family of the Marine. It seems to be in extremely poor taste to run this if the family objects (remember tasteless != illegal). If the family was OK with the images then run it anywhere you like. In fact, I wish the family had been OK with this so that everyone was aware of how truly violent and disgusting war is. I guess I would ask the AP if they would insist on running gore pic from a car crash if the victims family wasn’t OK with it so that people understand the ugliness of drinking and driving.

    3) From the reporter’s point of view I’d be worried about my rapport with the Marines following this. You have to believe that the grunts who get stuck with these embeds resent the hell out of them to begin with. Will the Marines now begin to suspect that the reporters are sort of rooting for a super photogenic death or maiming?

    4) Finally, this would be easier to swallow if the AP wasn’t such a complete a-hole about copyright infringement issues when people try to use their stuff under fair use. It is hard to support the rights of an organization when that same organization wants to force you to pay for 5 word quotes using questionable copyright reasoning: http://boingboing.net/2008/06/17/associated-press-exp.html

    So to sum up: Yes they have a right to publish those pics. I’m not so sure I would publish if I were the AP and the family didn’t want to see it.

  8. The right to publish something versus whether it’s right to publish something are two different things.

  9. I would have a lot more sympathy for this argument if the AP was running pictures of Afghan civilians brutalized and killed by the Taliban.

    I doubt the A.P. has reporters embedded with the Taliban.

  10. “Yet Sarah Palin, echoing the blistering condemnation of some conservatives…”

    For Spite Right pseudocons, nothing is more important than fighting “liberals,” whom they caricaturize as anti-war hippies. They know that showing coffins is a plot to turn people against the war and thus not have them “support the troops.” That’s why they still demand censorship of the press … while now telling us that Obama is destroying our Constitution.

  11. I doubt the A.P. has reporters embedded with the Taliban.

    I’m sure the AP, with a little initiative, could nonetheless get out and see what the Taliban does, take pictures of it, and publish.

  12. Sorry, but no. When you have a picture or video of a specific soldier dead or dying and the family of said soldier requests the photos not to be published, you respect those wishes. I don’t care that AP has the full right to publish them, it’s still morally reprehensible. There are still many other ways of showing the grimness of war without causing the kind of grief of these photos to the family.

    You claim the photos help citizens better understand the war, but what exactly do you mean by that claim? Do you honestly think people don’t understand soldiers are dying in horrible ways over there?

    We’ve been in Afghanistan for, what, 7 years now? Iraq for 6? Fact of the matter is, if you don’t understand the grimness of war by now, then that speaks more about your inability to face reality than it does the media’s coverage of the war.

  13. If you’ve seen one flag draped coffin, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

    Great propaganda value, though.

  14. “Americans have really no referent to abstract cocnepts like collateral damage.”

    He’s right. That whole twin towers thingy went right over my head.

  15. “like people getting their fucking livers blown out so politicians can parade around with their trite tautologic sloganism.”

    LIVERS?

  16. Everyone knows war is bad. We have all seen Saving Private Ryan. Yes people die in war and it is a messy business. To actually show the kid dying over the objection of his family is just sick and pornographic. Yes, war is bad. But so are a lot of other things. Child rape is really bad to. If there was a picture of a kid being raped, would AP publish that so that people fully understood the horror of child rape?

    Fuck AP. They are cowardly pond scum. And fuck Reason for defending them.

  17. I agree that, other things being equal, the public should be fully informed of the good and the bad in war (or any other public policy). But other things aren’t equal. Namely, the press that actually exists today uses sensational images to advocate political positions, not just report the happenings of the day. Since they aren’t a politically neutral party, I say that they don’t [automatically] get to take cover behind the we’re-informing-the-public argument.

  18. I like Fred Reed’s take on this.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/reed/reed166.html

    “Photographs are death to a war, boys and girls. They can asphyxiate a war faster than roadside bombs can even dream. Gates does not want the sprawling somnolent inattentive beast, the public, to see what his wars really are.”

  19. I think Fred Reed is an ass fucking moron. By his logic, any war will die if people only see first hand how bad it is. That assumes that anyone or most people who has seen war first hand will automatically stop supporting that war or any war. Bullshit. I have seen war first hand and I still have the ability to decide that some wars are worth fighting and others not. Further, I don’t know Reed, but I doubt he has ever served in a war. And most people who have and everyone I know who has is appalled by this decision. If what he were saying were true, veterans would be the most militant anti-war. But of course they are as a group not.

    Some day Mr. Reed will die. And I honestly hope it is a horrible and unpleasent one. And I also hope they film it and the moment of his end ends up on youtube. He can do his part to show the world the full horror of death.

  20. “Jesus Americans are a bunch of fucking pussies. We want our wars clean. We don’t want to have to think about the icky stuff…like people getting their fucking livers blown out so politicians can parade around with their trite tautologic sloganism. ”

    No. Perhaps we respect the privacy of the kid and his family. Maybe they really don’t want to have to see a picture of their son dying plastered on the front page. Some day you will die. Can we bring a camera crew and interview you during the experience and put it on reality TV?

  21. Wow, I had no idea that Reason writers were such naifs about military matters.

    When looking at the photo series, “Death of a Marine,” I felt a heightened respect for the gravity of war.

    Because, apparently, he never understood before that individuals suffer and die horribly in war. He so needed this profound intellectual insight that it wholly justified the pain and suffering inflicted on the squad mates and family.

    There is an undeniable emotional component to these pictures that can’t be disregarded.

    Which is why we shouldn’t use such imagery to make decisions that should be based on dispassionate reason. The fetish of showing the blood and pain of war leads to good decisions about military matters in the same way that showing people videos of surgery convinces them to make rational decisions about whether or not to have surgery.

    But on the debate over the substance of these pictures, the press has one overriding question to ask: Do the photos help citizens better understand the story of the war in Afghanistan?

    Obviously, they do.

    No, they do not. How does one man’s death tell us whether a particular war is justified or not? Soldiers die just as horribly in wars universally acknowledged as necessary and just as they do in stupid pointless conflicts. Soldiers die just as horribly in great sweeping victories won by dent of sheer military genius as they do in defeats brought on by inept bungling. How do the details of one man’s death, or a dozen or a hundred teach us anything about any war anytime, anywhere.

    They don’t. People who believe otherwise do so because they believe we should make life or death decisions based on impulse and emotion. Political cynics know they use such people’s reactions to visceral imagery to win political arguments they cannot win on evidence and reason. The consequences of such thinking are dire. Ask the Cambodians.

    I’m glad that there is a silver lining in this affair in that Harsanyi has been brought to shocking realization that war is horrific. I’m just not sure the pictures dragging his ignorant ass into adulthood was worth the suffering it inflicted.

  22. Just make a law that any images of US soldiers are the property of the soldier and can not be used without their written consent or the consent of the families.

  23. I wear my seatbelt always, even in the back seat. I wear helmets and other safety gear when appropriate. You know why? Cause during the summers during school I worked at the state police hq, and saw all the accident pictures, and saw people’s bodies broken and bloody, and their cars sometimes which were perfectly except for a hole in the windshield. I saw the most explicit pictures of what happens to people who don’t take precautions. And the police let me see the raw pics they just took, not filtered by someone making an educational video and choosing what would be ok to see. Those pictures influenced me to be safe more than any admonishment from parents or teachers. What I learned from looking at those pics was probably the best thing I took away from that job.

    In the same way, of course they should show the pictures, whether families want them to or not. It’s the very job of journalism to convey information.

    The government leaders want to spin it one way, the editorial boards of some news outfits want to spin it another way (and even outsource pictures and stories and not bother fact checking, like the rash of Reuters pics of fake explosions, fake “rocket” holes in the tops of ambulances, etc) Showing the truth would hopefully be done for every other military power, showing the damage the “other side” does as well, and the far greater amount of “collateral damage” they do, and the lengths we go to to avoid it. That’s part of why the government is afraid, but it’s part of having a free press.

    But it’s only by opening it up and letting anyone show any picture, that we will learn, opening it up for people with agendas to show pictures will open it up for all agendas. We don’t believe there is no bias, but the more information (pictures are information) the more we can learn and choose for ourselves.

  24. …the troops exist to defend the First Amendment and things like it…

    The troops exist to defend the government, and carry out the wishes of those who control the government. If the individuals controlling the government feel that it needs more troops to defend it, they will draft you or your children. (If not, why have draft registration?)

    If the troops really existed to defend the First Amendment and the rest of the Constitution, there would be a lot of Congressmen, judges, and bureaucrats running for cover.

  25. 2) Now let me say that I am queasy about this. The only sensibilities I care about are of the family of the Marine. It seems to be in extremely poor taste to run this if the family objects (remember tasteless != illegal).

    This

    No. Perhaps we respect the privacy of the kid and his family.

    And this reflect how I feel. Point blank.

  26. The right to publish something versus whether it’s right to publish something are two different things.

    Oh, and this.

  27. Further, I don’t know Reed, but I doubt he has ever served in a war.

    Reed served in Vietnam and was rendered nearly blind in an explosion. His article mentions this. He’s also been a military journalist and a police correspondent in gangland Northern Virginia. Safe to say, he’s seen his fair share of hell.

  28. “Safe to say, he’s seen his fair share of hell.”

    Then he of all people should know what a terrible exploitive decision this is. Shame on him.

  29. This debate is exactly why I’m a err-on-the-side-of-publishing kind of guy.
    I’ll publish anything that moves (or, in this case, doesn’t move).
    God bless Fred Reed. (God told me he likes Fred more than John.)

  30. Yale University Press refused to publish pictures of Mohammed because it might incite violence.

    Would this not justify the AP refusing to publish pictures of the war dead?

  31. Actually, I read Reed’s article, and thought it was tripe. I could tell you the reasons why but don’t want to expend the time or effort.
    Oliver Stone’s a decorated veteran, too, but I want little to do with his politics.

  32. “I wear my seatbelt always, even in the back seat. I wear helmets and other safety gear when appropriate. You know why? Cause during the summers during school I worked at the state police hq, and saw all the accident pictures, and saw people’s bodies broken and bloody, and their cars sometimes which were perfectly except for a hole in the windshield.”

    I just read a piece in my company newspaper (unlinkable intranet) about a guy who was bicycling. He was wearing a helmet. Nearly cost him his life. Turns out he was allergic to bee/wasp stings and as he was riding, a wasp got stuck under his helmet and started stinging him. His body shut down. Two passing nurses found him sans pulse. They were able to revive him via CPR.

    My takeaway from the story: Never wear a helmet while cycling.

  33. Sorry when a war is being fought in our name we have a responsibility to appreciate its true costs. Without photographs war is an abstraction no matter how aware you are of what is happening. I’d think libertarians would be more wary of a government suppressing such documentation in order to keep it an abstraction.

  34. I understand that AP had the family’s permission to publish the photos. If that is the case, everyone else’s objections are tripe.

  35. I doubt the A.P. has reporters embedded with the Taliban.

    Okay, but how about news organizations’ decisions to not show graphic images of people falling to their deaths from the WTC? It doesn’t seem to me that the news media censoring applies only in a pro- (or anti-) fashion. Certainly showing the gruesome deaths of those in the WTC may have inflamed passions in a pro-war sense.

  36. If the family wanted it, fine, but I was under the assumption that they did NOT want the picture shown.

  37. Man, even with photographs, war is an abstraction unless you’re living it day to day. I understand that images of grisly violence might help people understand it better, though.

    I understand that AP had the family’s permission to publish the photos.

    If this is in fact the case, I’m sure most people would withdraw their objections.

  38. Here is a link to the uberliberal MSNBC that states the family did not want the picture shown

    http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/09/04/2053049.aspx?GT1=43001

  39. He’s a U.S. soldier… employee of the people, fighting in our name. That trumps family wishes as far as I’m concerned. So does freedom of the press.

  40. I disagree Tony, not with this, common sense should prevail.

  41. He’s a U.S. soldier… employee of the people, fighting in our name. That trumps family wishes as far as I’m concerned. So does freedom of the press.

    I don’t know why it would. Plus, he’s a Marine, not a Soldier*…just sayin’, some of those jarheads get pissed about that sort of thing.

    *it’s supposed to be capitalized now. I’m not making that up.

  42. “Sorry when a war is being fought in our name we have a responsibility to appreciate its true costs. Without photographs war is an abstraction no matter how aware you are of what is happening.”

    Tony if you actually have to see a picture of a person dying to understand that war has costs, than you are too retarded to have a say in what goes on.

    Further, this kind of horseshit logic applies to anything. We don’t do enough about childhoold cancer in this country. Every year they try to get more money for research but it falls on deaf ears. I think it is because people don’t understand just how horrible childhood cancer is. So, what we need to do is go around the country and film kids dying and publish those pictures without regard to the familiy’s wishes or any sense of decorum because people need to see the full cost of childhood cancer. Maybe then they would care more.

    You don’t mean anything you say Tony. You just want to exploit this kid’s death for your own political purposes. Frankly, you are a sick fuck.

  43. If a free press means anything it should mean the right to publish photographs of war. Why the press went along with Bush’s rule I never understood.

  44. “If a free press means anything it should mean the right to publish photographs of war. Why the press went along with Bush’s rule I never understood.”

    And publishing those photos does what beyond causing pain and suffering to innocent people? Nothing, but it allows sick fucks like you to get your war porn jollies.

  45. If the family wanted it, fine, but I was under the assumption that they did NOT want the picture shown.

    The family supported the war. They supported sending their own children into the war. They were fools…and don’t want the world to see more of them.

  46. John,

    You’re an idiot if you think that people truly appreciate the costs of war without photography. I’d venture that most people deliberately make it an abstraction so they don’t have to think about how horrible it is. That certainly seems to be why draft-dodging neocons felt so comfortable sending people to die for their phony wars and why those who actually had served in uniform were the ones who were less gung-ho. War is ugly. It tends to get all the uglier when the people for whom it is being fought are insulated from its horrors.

  47. “The family supported the war. They supported sending their own children into the war. They were fools…and don’t want the world to see more of them.”

    Hey Alice, go fuck yourself. No really, go fuck yourself. Thanks that family and this kid and people like them, you and Tony get to wake up every day and live in a great country where you are free to be an asshole. I think thank you to that family is sufficient from the likes you and your ilk.

    Also, I thougth Afghanistan was the good war? Wasn’t that the war that was the result of the direct attack on the US? I said all last year that was a bullshit line and the people who spouted it would turn on the war in Afghanistan just as soon as Iraq fell off the front page. And sure enough, that is exactly what has happened.

  48. Alice Bowie, even assuming that any of your assumptions are true (not every parent actually approves of their kid joining the armed services) what the fuck does that have to do with the subject?

  49. Hey Tony,

    I have been to war. Don’t lecture me on the costs of war. And people fully understand the costs of war. My father went to war. My grandfather went to war. Two of my uncles went to war. And several of my cousins have been to war. All of them are appalled by this. And they all support the wars in Iraq and AFghanstan. They just don’t want scum like you exploiting peoples death and jerking off on war porn. So, do yourself and everyone else a favor and shut the fuck up.

  50. It tends to get all the uglier when the people for whom it is being fought are insulated from its horrors.

    [citation needed]. Tony, how the fuck is OEF a “phony” war? You can criticize how it’s been fought, but I think you’re talking out of your ass here.

  51. I think the consensus is:

    The AP has the right to publish the photo.

    There is some difference of opinion a to:

    Whether the AP was right to publish the photo.

    Breaking down somewhere along the more adamant/extreme end of the continuum of opposition to the war itself.

    Ilustrating, as all things do, one of the Iron Laws:

    You aren’t free unless you are free to be wrong.

  52. John,

    For the record I thought going into Afghanistan was stupid too. Terrorism simply is not best fought with conventional warfare. We end up spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives to eradicate an idea that only finds itself more widespread as a result of our actions.

    What’s ironic here is that you claim that people are all fully tuned in to the true, gritty, bloody costs of war, yet you spout platitudes about these guys protecting our freedoms. The sad, ugly truth is that every death in Iraq was in vain, because the war was phony and never should have been fought. Not a single person’s freedom was enhanced because of that war. Quite the opposite under Bush.

  53. Sorry if this had been my brother over there, and they published this without premission, the reporter better watch his back.

    Same way if he goes back to the military unit. Maybe catch some friendly fire on “accident”

  54. For the record, I think AP had the “right to publish” it. It shouldn’t be illegal for them to do so. They should just be called out as immoral slime for doing so.

  55. Some day you will die. Can we bring a camera crew and interview you during the experience and put it on reality TV?

    Yes, you can. Please. No disrespect to these families but too fucking bad. The people getting killed signed up voluntarily. Hiding behind the petticoats of the families’ discomfort is part of that pussiness I am talking about.

    Our government KILLS a lot of people including the volunteer soldiers. There is no pussy execpetion to the first amendment (though I am sure the current SCOTUS could find one).

    The gruesome of any individual picture is not going to change my mind about whether a particular course of action is warranted.

  56. I said all last year that was a bullshit line and the people who spouted it would turn on the war in Afghanistan just as soon as Iraq fell off the front page. And sure enough, that is exactly what has happened.

    Props for your prescience here.

  57. ” Not a single person’s freedom was enhanced because of that war.”

    There are a few million Kurds and Shia Iraqis who would disagree with you about that you ignorant cunt. Saddam was one of the most brutal dictators on earth. He gassed his own people. He had a prison set up for the children of his political enemies. He damed the waters and dryed out the marshes in Southern Iraq in one of the greatest ecological and genocidal crimes of the late 20th Century. He was killing around ten thousand people a month give or take. Lots of people are more free thanks to his no longer being around. You may think that it was a mistake to get rid of him. No doubt you beleive that the people of Iraq are like animals in the zoo who need to be under the control of a strong man and kept in line. But the people who live there don’t see it that way.

  58. “The gruesome of any individual picture is not going to change my mind about whether a particular course of action is warranted.”

    Good for you. So why publish it? It accomplishes nothing beyond giving creatures like Tony jackoff material.

  59. Oh, and if there was an agreement that said you needed premission from next of kin, then NO, they couldn’t publish it.

    Without there being some very compelling reason I don’t see how this would trump contract law.

  60. John,

    You said they were protecting OUR freedoms. How has any American’s freedom been enhanced? Lots of people may be more free. But lots of people are also more dead. I’ve said it before, don’t fucking defend the Iraq occupation on a libertarian site, and if you do, don’t tell me to shut the fuck up because I’m the only one advocating freedom and transparency between the two of us.

  61. It accomplishes nothing beyond giving creatures like Tony jackoff material.

    Tony can’t jack off to that — no testicular play.

  62. The sad, ugly truth is that every death in Iraq was in vain, because the war was phony and never should have been fought. Not a single person’s freedom was enhanced because of that war.

    Fail. So fail. Like John, pointed out, you can disagree with the war, but this statement is untrue.

  63. don’t fucking defend the Iraq occupation on a libertarian site

    All the stuff you defend on this site…sheesh

  64. No, they do not. How does one man’s death tell us whether a particular war is justified or not?

    Ugh. That picture of that general blowing out that guys brains in vietnam had an impact. It might not have given a 10 page conclusion, but it changed people’s attitudes about a war that was fucking stupid. And it was more effective that some damn hippy with a sign saying “Make love, not war.”

    And yeah some people are just too fucking stupid to appreciate mere words.

  65. Fine, not a single American’s freedom was enhanced. In fact we’ve become decidedly more susceptible to terrorism because of this war. So all you’re left with is a weasly post hoc justification that taken to its logical conclusion means we should in fact be the (unilateral) policeman of the world, which is something I don’t believe a libertarian would endorse.

  66. Tony if you actually have to see a picture of a person dying to understand that war has costs, than you are too retarded to have a say in what goes on.

    Well, John, apparently you are too stupid to understand that there are indeed very very many people that are that retarded. This is America we are talking about. The gaggle of idiots that voted for George Bush, TWICE. And not only that, they vote. And if it takes a picture to convince them the reality of war that makes a bunch of pussies uncomforatable, too bad.

  67. Like that recent bombing that killed like 90 people. Yeah, we very much need to see what collateral damage on such a scale looks like. In fact, I wish I could jam it down everyone’s throat. And if that makes you uncomofrtable, GOOD!! Then maybe after you washed that shit taste out of your mouth, you might ask why all those people had to die.

  68. Ooh, nice bait-n-switch, Tony.

    Troy,

    No disrespect to these families but too fucking bad. The people getting killed signed up voluntarily. Hiding behind the petticoats of the families’ discomfort is part of that pussiness I am talking about.

    I just don’t agree with you.

  69. I think it is because people don’t understand just how horrible childhood cancer is. So, what we need to do is go around the country and film kids dying and publish those pictures without regard to the familiy’s wishes or any sense of decorum because people need to see the full cost of childhood cancer.

    What a lame fucking analogy. Children can’t consent. Soldier do and did. And yeah, if the parents were willing to let it be filmed, then why not. Americans are a pretty fucking stupid lot. They have to be shocked into doing the right thing.

  70. Tony,

    Why don’t you sign up and serve and be in a position where people are shooting at you. Then come and talk to me about collateral damage. Until then, you are just talking out of your ass. Why did those people have to die? Maybe you might start by asking the enemy who make it a practice to hide amongst civilians in the hopes of getting them killed so dumb asses like you will take their side.

  71. “Soldier do and did”

    They didn’t consent to you jacking off over pictures of them dying.

  72. You’re an idiot if you think that people truly appreciate the costs of war without photography.

    So all those people who were moved by that famous Iwo Jima flag raising picture were idiots?

  73. A simple question for those who say that publication of this photo was wrong: what war photos are “right” for the press to publish?

  74. “A simple question for those who say that publication of this photo was wrong: what war photos are “right” for the press to publish?”

    Simple rule, no identifable pictures of dead bodies. If you show bodies, blot out the faces so that the family can’t tell who it is. Or, if the family consents, then publish the picture as is.

    If the family had said, “we want this picture published” I wouldn’t have an objection. War sucks. The picture accomplishes nothing, but if the family doesn’t mind, it is none of my business.

  75. The funny thing is that if they actually published the truth and showed the bodies blood and all, the effect would be the opposite of what Tony and his ilk think it would be. People would be pissed off and just want to nuke the place.

  76. They didn’t consent to you jacking off over pictures of them dying.

    1: You’re getting me confused with Tony. Learn to read jackoff.

    And before you point this arrow at me:

    Why don’t you sign up and serve and be in a position where people are shooting at you.

    I did serve, and was honorably discharged. So take your martyr complex and shove it up your ass.

  77. “So, what we need to do is go around the country and film kids dying and publish those pictures without regard to the familiy’s wishes or any sense of decorum because people need to see the full cost of childhood cancer. Maybe then they would care more.”

    Worked for me and MDA.

  78. A simple question for those who say that publication of this photo was wrong: what war photos are “right” for the press to publish?

    My only problem with it is that the Marine’s family objected. Most photos I’d have no problem with being published but I’m not entirely sure how to answer your question.

    So all those people who were moved by that famous Iwo Jima flag raising picture were idiots?

    No, but after watching Flags of Our Fathers it drove home to me how much context had dropped out from that image. Now, this photographer in the case the article is referring to had hella context, I’m only objecting because the Marine’s family objected.

  79. All aforementioned venom aside, I can live with this rule:

    If you show bodies, blot out the faces so that the family can’t tell who it is

  80. Those rules sound reasonable (as editor guidelines of course, not as government censorship but I know you mean the former and not the latter).

    As far as the effect goes, it varies. Some would react as you say, and some as Tony say. Time is a factor too. I’ll have to hit the books to refresh my memory, but IIRC the FDR admin went from forbidding photos showing American bodies (fearing that people would be discouraged) to encouraging it in order to spur people on.

  81. The kids with cancer example is an apt one. It it is not objectionable to publish pictures of this marine dying over the objections of his family, Why is it objectionable to publish photos of other people dying to make a point? If they had photos of Kennedy dying and published it over his family’s objection, Tony would be on hear screaming bloody murder.

  82. “He was killing around ten thousand people a month give or take. Lots of people are more free thanks to his no longer being around.”

    I loved the pictures of Uday and Qusay all laid out on slabs, naked, bloated and riddled with bullet holes. It’d make a great Middle Eastern restaurant menu cover.

  83. After rereading VikingMoose’s post (second from top), as much as I object to the publication of the photos I do think that this conversation is somehow good or important to have. And it does tie into what R C Dean said.

  84. All aforementioned venom aside, I can live with this rule:

    I’ll 3rd John’s recommendation.

    If they had photos of Kennedy dying and published it over his family’s objection, Tony would be on hear screaming bloody murder.

    Now that’s an ad homonym attack. :p

  85. Now that’s an ad homonym attack. :p

    Hit’n’Run: come for the vitriol, stay for the terrible puns!

  86. Hey, I didn’t invent that phrase (although I wish I had)! John did (accidentally, I think).*

    *Then someone else said, “an add attack?” Damn, what thread was that?

  87. I was wondering: Is AP going to start publishing pictures with the victims names of, motor cycle accidents or dying victims of violence … all in the name of teaching us that we drive crazy and have crime in America.

    Now Kennedy … you might not hear ‘screaming bloody murder,’ but you might hear ‘bloody murder’ from the Kopechne family.

  88. I haven’t seen any pics but I still want to nuke the place! 😀 I imagine that had we fought WWII under the current politically correct bullshit we’d all be speaking German and Japanese.

  89. “I haven’t seen any pics but I still want to nuke the place!”

    Me too. That’s the only way to put an end to this Islamofascist bullshit. Nule ’em till they glow.

  90. Nule = Nuke

  91. So if the photographers dying child is photographed is she okay with the photo being published?

    Either way the family asked the photo not be published. The conversation was over right there. Today’s media rush show or controversy shows a lack of personal restraint on the part of individuals in the industry. Hiding behind the, “it’s media’s job” argument is a rationalization of an immoral act by an individual by associating their self with a larger group. It was wrong. There are other ways to show the horrors of war.

    My understanding is there is a legal question as to the release of the photos and consent. Not that it matters if there is, the act is still wrong.

  92. Why is it objectionable to publish photos of other people dying to make a point? If they had photos of [Ted]Kennedy dying and published it over his family’s objection, Tony would be on hear screaming bloody murder.

    Since Tony believes that Obamacare and Health Care in general is a right and all people employed by the goverment can be exploited for the furthering of a bias (regardless of what the family thinks), I would like to see his reason why Ole Teddy’s demise should not have been filmed, streamed and exploited.

    It tends to get all the uglier when the people for whom it is being fought are insulated from its horrors.

    It would have been Teddy’s greatest endorsement of his life’s premier cause, and since he was a government employee the same AP bias could have applied to him.

    “Die with Dignity, Like Teddy Kennedy”

  93. “Safe to say, he’s seen his fair share of hell.

    Then he of all people should know what a terrible exploitive decision this is. Shame on him.”

    John, you’re an idiot. Just had to sign in to tell you that. Me, I’ll stick with the opinion of the guy who has actually fought.

  94. Me, I’ll stick with the opinion of the guy who has actually fought.

    Um, not everyone who’s fought agrees with Reed.

  95. I don’t think Bush blocked photos because they were concerned for anyone’s feelings. Face it, war has become a video game to most people. Completely abstract. If you think photos aren’t that important then perhaps you forgot a little incident at Abu Ghraib. Should we have kept those photos secret out of concern for the families of the tortured prisoners? There wouldn’t have been accountability (at least as soon) without the photos.

    John,

    I do not like looking at dead soldiers. I don’t like that they were sent to die in the first place. You’re the one placing family sentiment over freedom of the press and blind patriotism over the ethics of war. I want to see fewer dead soldiers, and if publishing such photos expedites that goal then I’m for it. Call it political if you want. But you’re the one who finds this war to be a just one despite all appeals to sanity, so I think it’s you who’s being the amoral fuckwad.

  96. The coverage is bothersome because it forces viewers to evaluate whether the soldier’s death was justified. This scares the hell out of conservatives because they risk losing support as a result; the real risk of *not* being in this war is purely hypothetical. Were the soldier defending against a clear and present danger–like a Chinese army advancing across a U.S. border, raping and pillaging American civilians on the way–this kind of media coverage wouldn’t make the slightest dent in support for the war. This is what happens when you sell your wars on made-up scenarios. I invite conservatives to quit whining and settle down for a nice sleep in the imperialist bed they’ve made for themselves.

  97. “Um, not everyone who’s fought agrees with Reed.

    But that my friend is the great thing about freedom. Just as the reporter was totally free, rightly so, to publish the photo, these other are folks perfectly free to disagree and voice their opinion. The can jump up and down and hold their breath all day long. But what they can’t do, is take away someone else’s rights no matter hwo bad they hate it. That’s the whole point of the “it’s what they are fighting for” argument. Ain’t freedom grand!

  98. Should the government be able to block photos and stories? No way, no how. Never.

    However, I do think that it was in bad taste to show the picture after the marine’s parents said they would not want the picture shown. Since the young man died and was not able to give consent, I would believe that his parents would retain that right (unless he signed away the ability to refuse consent for photos at some point).

  99. robert,
    Didn’t R C Dean already make that point upthread?

    Tony,

    Should we have kept those photos secret out of concern for the families of the tortured prisoners?

    Faces censored, identities hidden.

    You’re the one placing family sentiment over freedom of the press

    How? If John’s saying the press had a right but they ought not to have, what is he placing over freedom of press? No, I think he’s referring to ethics, compassion, morals and all that.

  100. “unless he signed away the ability to refuse consent for photos at some point”

    I do wonder what the laws of privacy are regardling the military in is as much as they are pseudo public property. I guess if there is a resulting lawsuit we shall see. If no lawsuit (maybe there already is one and I just missed it), there probably is no legal ground for them to stand on. First amendment will likely trump all considerations. With the exception I am sure of the “child rape” example given earlier which would then fall under the definition of “child porn” and therefore, nobody would risk publishing it for any reason.

  101. “Didn’t R C Dean already make that point upthread?”

    I figured someone probably had. I mean, look where we are for crying out loud. I just got ahead of myself and skipped a number of posts. Just driving the point home LOL!

  102. “””You’re the one placing family sentiment over freedom of the press “””

    Family sentiment? What about family sentiment when they stop loss them? The Marine is government property first, family member second. Don’t like it, don’t enlist. As government property he is taxpayer property therefore what happens to him is the public’s business. Unless we are going to change the taxpayer funded = taxpayer owned nexus.

    But the easy way to stop this sort of thing is to not embed reporters with the troops. If you really want to blame anyone, blame the person who authorized the reporter to travel with them. The reporter isn’t there to carry ammo.

  103. Face it, war has become a video game to most people. Completely abstract.

    That is bullshit and the same statement, in one form or another, has been echoed for almost every war I can think of.

    I want to see fewer dead soldiers, and if publishing such photos expedites that goal then I’m for it. Call it political if you want.

    I guess the ends do justify the means.

    This isn’t about freedom of press. It’s about the request of a mother that her dead and dying son not be paraded across numerous news agencies and one person’s unwillingness to spare her that pain. The rest of the argument is bullshit wrapped in used condom of rationalization.

    I want the wars over. I don’t want mothers to suffer the indignity of losing their sons. I have a minuscule vote on ending the wars and alleviating such suffering. The person who released these photos had absolute control over reducing the that suffering. Instead the person chose to increase one person’s suffering to make a political point that won’t change a fucking thing.

  104. I think the evidence suggests that photos are indeed extremely powerful motivators for ending bad wars and bad behavior associated with them.

  105. I think the evidence suggests that photos are indeed extremely powerful motivators for ending bad wars and bad behavior associated with them.

    You mean like the US Civil War? Or WWI, or WWII, or Vietnam, or Korea, or…

    How about something other than conjecture, even some loosely related incidents will do, to back up that assertion? Because since the war has been photographed it is pretty hard to say the defining means by which it was stopped was the images swaying public opinion.

  106. Because since the war has been photographed it is pretty hard to say the defining means by which it was stopped was the images swaying public opinion.

    If you’re just looking around for correlation before even considering the question of causation, I would have to say that war photography and war are positively correlated. Lots of other factors in play, of course, and war is enormously complicated, etc., disclaimers ad nauseum, but c’mon.

  107. I think the evidence suggests that photos are indeed extremely powerful motivators for ending bad wars and bad behavior associated with them.

    Tony, instead of the “begging the question”, can we rename this fallacy as “Brother, can you spare an ambiguously vauge point?”

    Define “bad wars” please.

  108. I think the evidence suggests that photos are indeed extremely powerful motivators for ending bad wars and bad behavior associated with them.

    [citation please]


  109. If you’re just looking around for correlation before even considering the question of causation, I would have to say that war photography and war are positively correlated.

    If there is a correlation between photography of war and ending war then why have we had subsequent wars that have lasted longer and longer while photography has gone from civil war B/W to video of dead US soldiers being drug through the streets and more video of shit and people blowing than you could possibly want. Wouldn’t the argument hinge on the better, more available, and more horrific the images or medium the shorter wars should be or at least the louder the public protest? I don’t see eve any loos correlation between the any of those.

    Causation with respect to ending war is so complicated I wouldn’t even consider any one thing. But looking at correlations between war and public outrage/protest or even length of war relative to media imagery isn’t too complicated or obtuse. I personally don’t see a the two even being remotely related. If they are the impact is so small it is negligible with respect to other variables.

  110. Vietnam didn’t end until it became visceral via journalism. Journalism includes photography. The point is to access the reality of war, reality which is never less gruesome than people abstractly think but always more. Photojournalism during Vietnam had a major impact. Photography was the central impetus for ending prison abuses in Iraq.

    why have we had subsequent wars that have lasted longer and longer while photography has gone from…

    While war hasn’t become all that humane, far fewer people die of conflict today than they have in the past, and this is a steady trend. I would argue that access to war’s realities have made it much less palatable. The length of wars has more to do with the fact that we’ve not been fighting wars but have been acting as an occupying force against guerrilla fighters in the cases where they tend to stretch on forever.

  111. You’re arguing correlation implies causation?

  112. unquestionably, the AP’s cowardly refusal to distribute the Muhammad cartoons in 2006 for fear of upsetting some Muslims was a perfect example of this surrender

    I’m incredibly annoyed every time I read this. It implies that there is a single person anywhere on Earth that believes that the reason people didn’t want to run images that rile up people who like blowing up buildings had anything to do with anyone’s feelings.

    The press in Mexico and Columbia don’t refrain from writing negative stories about the drug cartels because they are worried about hurting feelings. Don’t make yourself look ridiculous by saying you actually believe that was the case with the cartoons.

  113. Some Guy, you have to be kidding if you don’t think the dainty newspapermen didn’t want to publish the Mohammed cartoons because they were scared of radical Islamic violence. They couldn’t possibly think that would happen. It definitely was out a sense of uptight political correctness, which I think they would be rather proud of themselves for. (Minor quibble)

  114. Let’s show the pictures. And maybe let’s get some pictures of late-term abortion fetuses as well.

  115. The right to show the hostilities of war should lie first and foremost with the families of the slain. I do not deny the need for showing the savages of war, but let it be done by families that decide it is the proper thing to do, not by those with a vested interest. Because you live gives you no right to be unwanted voyeurs in our most personal experience.

  116. Regarding the question of the “right” to publish such a photograph, let us be mindful that what is legally permissible under the Constitution is not always morally justified. The courts may decide whether or not the AP has the legal right to publish this dying Marine’s image, but it is American society which determines the morality of such an act. To publish the photograph over the objections of the deceased’s family is an act many will find so repugnant that the fallout might run counter to the AP’s coldly-calculated objective, blunting the public’s enthusiasm for the anti-war message.

    Furthermore, the argument that this family must endure yet more suffering in order that others have the opportunity comprehend the horror of war reeks of hiding behind utilitarianism to proselytize the public with an anti-war message completely dispenses with any sense of compassion or human solidarity. The argument that the media be allowed greater access to the war is certainly valid, and the American public has a responsibility to see the fruits of the elected leadership’s policies, but the publication of this image as an argument against DoD obstruction strikes me as extremely counter-productive if the aim is to attain greater freedom in reporting on the war or greater dissemination of war-related reporting in the media.

    Finally, as a Marine who has recently served in the Middle East, I pose the following proposition: if the publication this image is necessary in order to curb the expansion of this war, then, in the spirit of utilitarianism, perhaps we should publish crime scene photos of every accidental drug overdose, suicide, murder victim, drunk driving fatality, and rape victim until our society comes to its senses and puts a stop to these senseless deaths. Just remember, it could be your mother, your child or grandchild, or your spouse who winds up plastered on the front page as the latest fodder for political agitation. If you want the American public to have greater access to the horrors of war, then reinstate indiscriminate conscription (the draft). That’s called having skin in the game.

  117. Also well said, jpocali. The harder I think about your last sentence, the more profound it seems.

  118. “let us be mindful that what is legally permissible under the Constitution is not always morally justified.”

    The constitution is not a regulation of the people, but of the government. what is permissible or not concerning it, concerns the government essentially, and not the people.

  119. “The right to show the hostilities of war should lie first and foremost with the families of the slain.”

    I do not believe that you can simply assume a universal value for family or next of kin in the Army today.. there’s too much difference of opinion

  120. Citizen Nothing | September 9, 2009, 12:40pm | #

    I would have a lot more sympathy for this argument if the AP was running pictures of Afghan civilians brutalized and killed by the Taliban.

    I doubt the A.P. has reporters embedded with the Taliban.

    We might want instead to check with Reuters.

  121. This is the face of war and those who support the war as well as those who oppose it should well know what it is. It isn’t just about smiling Marines handing the local kids chocolate bars. Sometimes they die instead.

  122. I like Fred Reed’s take on this.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/reed/reed166.html

    Saw that. Thought it was good. But, in my old age I’ve become an anti-war hippie so I may be biased.

  123. I just looked at Jacobson’s photo essay for the first time and I found it profoundly moving. I don’t see blood or gore, I see Marines taking care of a brother and paying tribute to a fellow Marine.

    Just as an aside, this is pretty tame stuff compared to the USN films of the Iwo Jima landing.

  124. Mo:

    The constitution is not a regulation of the people, but of the government. what is permissible or not concerning it, concerns the government essentially, and not the people.

    Had this been censored by the DoD or a court order at the family’s request, you can bet a First Amendment suit against the censoring body would be inevitable. Thus, it’s a Constitutional matter.

  125. I do not believe that you can simply assume a universal value for family or next of kin in the Army today.. there’s too much difference of opinion

    Mo, that is a bullsh*t answer and you know it.

  126. Actually it was not an image of a Marine dying in Afghanistan, it was a photo of an injured Marine — a class that the Pentagon now calls wounded warriors.

    Bernard was tended at the scene of his injury, then moved back to an MRAP, where there was a time-delaying explosion, then transported to a base, then, with his vital signs stable, airlifted to Camp Leatherneck where he died on an operating table of a blood clot in the heart.

    So what’s wrong with publishing the photo of an injured Marine?

  127. Sarah Palin and co. are pissed because they have to pretend the kid was a hero. In reality, dead and wounded soldiers are an embarrassment to the empire.

    “Early in the invasion [of Iraq] there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. ‘A grateful child,’ said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. ‘When do I get my arms back?’ he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.

    The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.”
    -Harold Pinter, 2005

  128. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets.

  129. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane.

  130. I don’t got your point. But thank you all the same.

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