Sep 10, 2009

Picture of war (update)

In response to the debate over the publication of an Associated Press photograph of a mortally wounded Marine in Afghanistan, Tim McGuire at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism argues that news outlets have a responsibility to show the grim truth of war and shouldn't let government appeals or family feelings sway the decision.

McGuire writes:

My former ethics students have been particularly engaged by the controversy over the Associated Press transmission of the photo of the soldier who died in Afghanistan. One student wrote: “I thought of you as I was reading about the controversial photo of the Marine that AP posted, even after they were repeatedly asked not to by family and others. I was wondering what you thought about this picture and whether you would have posted it.”

If you are like me, the phrase that defines my student’s note and screams out is, “even after they were repeatedly asked not to by family and others.” For so many people following this controversy, including Robert Gates, that family request should have stopped publication. Gates was quoted as writing to AP, “Why your organization would purposely defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. 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.”

This case is great evidence why journalistic publications in pursuit of news and bent on showing truth are never going to be friends with government, and even some of the public. It’s why business model discussions which might sacrifice real independence scare the heck out of me. I know there are people who feel the anger of this Associated Content commentator, but the contention that AP transmitted this photo in the pursuit of money displays such an incredible lack of understanding of how news works, it is staggering. ...
Read his entire essay here.

(via Romenesko)

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