The Associated Press has sparked controversy by disseminating a photo of a dying Marine in Afghanistan:
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. [Ed.: This is an AP news story. The AP put its justification up front.]
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.
Gates wrote a strongly worded letter to AP President and CEO Tom Curley on Thursday, saying it was a matter of “judgment and common decency” not to use the photo. A Pentagon spokesman said Gates followed up with a phone call “begging” Curley not to use it.
The photo was part of a package that the AP sent out to its subscribers called “Death of a Marine.” You can watch the slide show by following a link here. I personally don’t think the picture is that bad, i.e., graphic. But what was the compelling need to publish it over the objections of the fallen Marine’s family?
The AP explains what it did here:
The Associated Press is distributing a photo of a Marine fatally wounded in battle, choosing after a period of reflection to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it. …
The picture was taken by Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson, who accompanied Marines on the patrol and was in the midst of the ambush during which Bernard was wounded. She had photographed Bernard on patrol earlier, and subsequently covered the memorial service held by his fellow Marines after his death.
“AP journalists document world events every day. Afghanistan is no exception. We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is,” said Santiago Lyon, the director of photography for AP.
One thing that isn’t clear to me is whether, in “choosing” to publish the photo, the AP violated the agreement under which its photographer was embedded. Here is how the AP describes the agreement:
The rule regarding coverage of “wounded, injured, and ill personnel” states that the “governing concerns” are “patient welfare, patient privacy and next of kin/family considerations.”
“Casualties may be covered by embedded media as long as the service member’s identity and unit identification is protected from disclosure until OASD-PA has officially released the name. Photography from a respectful distance or from angles at which a casualty cannot be identified is permissible; however, no recording of ramp ceremonies or remains transfers is permitted.”
Michelle Malkin, however, quotes a more explicit agreement that she signed when she embedded:
Names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions of identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without service member’s prior written consent.
The photographer herself, in narration accompanying the slide show, says that she assumed the photo couldn’t be disseminated because of the rules under which she was embedded. So it sounds as though she, at least, thought that the AP was breaching its contract by “choosing” to publish the photo.
Legality aside, what strikes me as disingenuous in the AP’s position is the implication, which we’ve seen before when this issue has been debated, that the American public is somehow unaware that war is “unpleasant” and “brutal,” and that news coverage of recent wars has been “sanitized.” This implication is ludicrous. There may have been a time when war was widely romanticized, but that ended no later than World War I. Pretty much everyone nowadays–“nowadays” meaning from 1915 on–is well aware that war is unpleasant and brutal.
I suspect that what the AP really means is that it doesn’t have enough opportunities to disseminate pictures that are used–whatever the AP’s intent may be–as propaganda photos by left-wing organs like the Huffington Post.
One more thing about the AP’s brave and unflinching commitment to the public’s right to know the truth, however unpleasant the truth may be: the AP self-righteously refused to publish the Mohammed cartoons. Why? Because “we don’t distribute content that is known to be offensive.” In the current case, the “content” was offensive to the dead Marine’s family. As the AP acknowledged, Joshua Bernard’s father begged the AP not to disseminate the photo, which he and his family thought was disrespectful to his son. But that’s not what the AP means by “offensive.” In this case, the AP was safe in the knowledge that if it ran the photo, the senior Bernard–himself a retired Marine first sergeant–wouldn’t come looking for Tom Curley. He would just feel bad.
That’s the Associated Press for you–speaking truth to power!