By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Sep 5, 2009 16:39:39 EDT
A graphic photograph of a mortally wounded Marine released for publication Thursday by The Associated Press — over the objections of the family and the Pentagon — has reignited the debate over how to juggle combat coverage with sensitivity toward loved ones of the deceased.
Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade during an Aug. 14 Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. He suffered severe leg wounds and died on a field hospital’s operating table, according to AP.
An AP photographer’s slightly blurred image captured Bernard lying on the ground, with two fellow Marines rushing to his aid. His face is recognizable, and he appears to have lost his legs.
The AP released the photo as part of a larger story package on Bernard’s death after what it called “long deliberations.” AP had placed a one-day embargo on the photo’s release to give media outlets time to consider whether to publish the graphic image. And it had called Bernard’s family before moving the photo to its member publications, AP spokesman Paul Colford said.
The photo’s release prompted a telephone call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to AP President Thomas Curley asking him to reconsider and defer to the wishes of the family, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
Gates, who has supported media access in the past, then sent a formal letter of protest to Curley.
“Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me,” Gates wrote. “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 American newspapers is appalling.”
Curley told Gates he would revisit the decision with his editorial team; he later told Morrell that the AP had decided not to withdraw the photo.
In a statement dated Sept. 4, Colford said the AP ultimately decided that in the context of the full story package, “it was important” to release the images.
The Military Times newspapers were involved in a similar incident in 2003. A photo taken in the weeks after the invasion of Iraq showed soldiers carrying a wounded comrade, who later died.
The Army disembedded several Army Times staff members at the time, but it was ordered days later to reinstate them by Defense Department public affairs.