The Times Public Editor patted his paperon the back for publishing photos of dead soldiers from Iraq- but when it comes topublishing controversial images, the paper'spolitical courage is quite selective.
Sunday's column by Public Editor Clark Hoyt, "The Painful Images of War," defended the paper's recent front-page story on the lack of photos of war dead from Iraq, a story that itself featured photos of dead soldiers.
The same paper which refused to stand in support of press freedom by reprinting the controversial cartoons from a Dutch newspapermocking the prophet Mohammed is suddenly quite brave when it comes to blasting out gruesome images that might provide a graphic boost to the liberal anti-war cause.
Two hundred twenty-one American soldiers and Marines have been killed in Iraq this year, but until eight days ago, The Times had not published a photo of one of their bodies.
The picture The Times did publish on July 26, of a room full of death after a suicide bombing in June, with a marine in the foreground, his face covered and his uniform riddled with tiny shrapnel holes, accompanied a front-page article about how few such images there are.
The Times reported that the freelance photographer who took the picture, Zoriah Miller, was barred from covering the Marines after he posted it and other graphic pictures of dead Americans and Iraqis on his Web site. A second photo accompanying the article, of a dead Army captain in a pool of blood in 2004, got that photographer in trouble at the time, too.
Jim Looram, a retired West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, feels strongly that images of dead soldiers should never be published during a war. "I cannot describe to you what it is like to see a dead American soldier," he said. Civilians cannot understand what happens on a battlefield, Looram said, and it dishonors dead soldiers to try to convey through pictures what they went through.
His daughter, Meaghan, is the Times picture editor who handled the photographs that accompanied the article by Kamber and Arango. She loves her dad but disagrees with him on this. "Looking at photographs of the gravely wounded or dead is a profoundly affecting and emotional experience," she said. "However, I do feel that it is my duty as a journalist to see that a truthful account of the consequences of war is given."
Hoyt agreed with his paper, naturally:
Painful as these issues are - C. J. Chivers, a Times reporter and former Marine officer who wrote about Valdez-Castillo, told me he is "pretty tortured" about them - I think The Times has an obligation to pursue stories and photographs that report the entire experience of war, including death.
[Executive Editor Bill] Keller said, "Death and carnage are not the whole story of war - there is also heroism and frustration, success and setback, camaraderie and, on occasion, atrocity - but death and carnage are part of the story, and to launder them out of our account of the war would be a disservice."
Too bad Keller didn't show similar political courage when he had a chance to stand with other media outlets and publish the cartoons of Mohammad. Instead his editorial page punted. From a February 2006 editorial:
The New York Times and much of the rest of the nation's news media have reported on the cartoons but refrained from showing them. That seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe in words.