The Houston Chronicle has a story about a Texas’ families outrage over the fact that the New York Times used a picture of their son dying on Haifa street to spice up a story:
A photograph and videotape of a Texas soldier dying in Iraq published by the New York Times have triggered anger from his relatives and Army colleagues and revived a long-standing debate about which images of war are proper to show.
The journalists involved, Times reporter Damien Cave and Getty Images photographer Robert Nickelsberg, working for the Times, had their status as so-called embedded journalists suspended Tuesday by the Army corps in Baghdad, military officials said, because they violated a signed agreement not to publish photos or video of any wounded soldiers without official consent.
New York Times foreign editor Susan Chira said Tuesday night that the newspaper initially did not contact the family of Army Staff Sgt. Hector Leija about the images because of a specific request from the Army to avoid such a direct contact.
“The Times is extremely sensitive to the loss suffered by families when loved ones are killed in Iraq,” Chira said. “We have tried to write about the inevitable loss with extreme compassion.”
She said that after the newspaper account, with a photograph of the soldier, was published Monday, a Times reporter in Baghdad made indirect efforts to tell the family of the video release later that day. The video was still available for viewing on the Times’ Web site Tuesday night, when the newspaper notified clients of its photo service that the photograph at issue was no longer available and should be eliminated from any archives. (Emphasis mine.)
Since Matthew Brady’s famed Civil War photographs, there’s been a debate about newspapers using images of America’s own dead soldiers to tell a story. This is the first time that I know of, though, where a major American news organization has used video footage of a soldier actually dying.
Incidentally, there is a school of thought that says we shouldn’t make war antiseptic, like packaged meat in the market, but that we should make people on the home front vividly aware of the blood and carnage that is real warfare. The anti-War view has it that this will “turn-off” the public from War, since we have little stomach for finding out what really happens behind bloodless reports. The other view is that, as Americans showed with 9/11, these images, rather than making us passive, make us angry, help us to recognize our troops’s sacrifices, and increase our willingness to fight.
Regardless of whether you incline to either, or neither view, however, the NY Times showed exceptional bad taste in using this footage without the family’s consent — and stupidity in doing so without negotiating a deal first with the Army.