Did Los Angeles Times make right call on photos of dead Afghans?
The Los Angeles Times published graphic photos of US soldiers posing with dead Afghan insurgents. Even media analysts don't agree on whether it was the right thing to do.
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“The Times made a thoughtful, deliberate, and justifiable decision to publish those images,” he says. “They make a justifiable case for the journalistic purpose in publishing those photos. I believe they honored the ethical principle of revealing the truth as fully as possible.”Skip to next paragraph
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Part of the Times's purpose apparently comes from the motivations of the soldier who gave the paper the photos. He said he wanted to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. He notes that virtually all of the soldiers in the photos had friends who were killed or wounded by homemade bombs or suicide attacks. “They were frustrated … their buddies had been blown up by IEDs. So they sort of celebrated,” he told the Times.
But other experts say the Pentagon had a compelling case.
"Printing the photos is ill-advised because they show American soldiers in a negative light, are inflammatory, and will speed to the Middle East virally on the Internet, endangering the lives of other solders," says Sally Mounts, president of Auctus Consulting Group, a public relations strategy firm.
“In anyone's mind, posing with dead bodies looks suspiciously like gloating over dead bodies. People take pictures of events they are proud of and want to remember," she adds. "Any soldier who wants to remember the killing he did is not exactly a poster boy for the American ideals we're trying to further in the Middle East."
The Pentagon has stressed that point. The conduct “most certainly does not represent the character and the professionalism of the great majority of our troops in Afghanistan,” Captain Kirby told the Times.
As a result, Ms. Mounts says, the L.A. Times “action is at worst disingenuous and at best unethical. Does the L.A. Times seriously think their need-to-know policy trumps the cost of retaliatory fallout? If even one life is lost as a result of these photos, it is an appalling and thoroughly preventable tragedy.”
For his part, Doug Spero, an associate professor of mass communication at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., is torn. He was once a news director and a reporter covering military installations, which gives him some sympathy for the Pentagon's position.
“If I received a call and [military officials] made any practical or logical sense on why this would endanger troops – and the story value wasn’t that high – I’d cooperate. Not only for future relationships, but if there is going to be an error made, I’d would rather it be on the side of national security and pro-defense," he says. "Sometimes there is a higher calling. This is a very sticky issue, and journalists need to evaluate each situation individually without any prejudice.”
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