Sunday, July 27, 2008

July 27, 2008

How free should reporters be to cover a war?
The New York Times reported this past week on efforts by the US military to control pictures of the war, particularly pictures of American dead. The Times cites the case of photographer Zoriah Miller, who posted photos on the Internet of some Marines killed in the fighting. He was subsequently barred from working in the Marines' part of the country and the Times says the Marine commander in Iraq is trying to have Miller banned from all U.S. military installations around the world.
The newspaper cites other incidents: Stefan Zaklin barred from working with an Army unit after he published a photo of a dead Army captain in 2004. Two New York Times journalists disembedded (removed from the units to which they were attached) after the Times published a picture of a fatally wounded soldier in 2007.
What's right? When I was a reporter in Vietnam in the 1960s, there were no restrictions on what pictures we could take. We hitchhiked around the country, bumming rides on military helicopters to reach the units we wanted to cover. Once we'd used up our film, we bummed rides back to Saigon. No restrictions, though we had some of our own.
We didn't, or at least the reporters and cameramen I knew didn't, photograph faces. None of us wanted Mrs. Smith, watching the Evening News in Des Moines, to suddenly gasp, "Oh God, that's my son Charley." But we did think the war had real costs for Americans and that showing those costs--the young people who wouldn't be coming home--should be part of the our coverage.
The military, I suppose, feels that the Iraq war is unpopular anyway and should be sanitized as much as possible for home consumption. I think that's wrong for a number of reasons. One is that if people know the costs of war, maybe they'll be less likely to allow a foolish president to blunder into one we didn't need to fight (Weapons of mass destruction? Where? Where?) as Mr.Bush blundered into this one.

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