The Inbox: Other voices on the suicide-bombing photo
Published: April 9, 2012
As I said in a previous blog posting, I fully support the Stars and Stripes editors who chose to run a photo of the immediate aftermath of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan last week. It was a disturbing image, but undoubtedly newsworthy, and the editors did not take lightly the decision to put the photo on Thursday's front page. After a full discussion, they concluded that its news value outweighed the issues of sensitivity. In light of that sensitivity, they also chose the photo that showed no horrific injuries and in which the injured American soldiers were not identifiable.
All those considerations notwithstanding, they no doubt also knew some readers would find the photo objectionable.
I ran a couple of excerpts from readers’ emails in the previous post, and said I’d expand those and identify the writers after I got their permission. Here they are:
Maj. Paul M. White wrote from Kabul: When I opened Stars and Stripes this morning I was shocked and appalled but what I saw. How is putting a photo of 3 wounded American Soldiers on the front page any way to show support for our troops here. Of everyone I have talked to today in Kabul, they have all been shocked and disgusted by this photo. Yes, you are showing what really goes on here but we already know that. This paper is directed and focused on us.
Many of us read Stars and Stripes because it tells and shows us what's going on at home. The last thing many of us want to see are our brothers in arms, lying there on the street bleeding with aid only being given to the Afghans wounded in the attack. If this paper's main clientele were civilians or people not associated with the military then this photo would not have made the front page because there would have been a warning about the horrific nature of the photo. Show it for shock and awe to the average citizen that doesn't know what's going one but don't show this to my wife, kids and family that only want me to come home after my 3rd year long combat tour.
Capt. Daniel J. Wood wrote from Afghanistan: I just wanted to let you know that the front page of today's issue is in poor taste. Two of the Soldiers that died were my friends. I am very disappointed with Stars and Stripes.
John L. Thornton Sr. wrote from Germany: I would like to know exactly who thought putting a graphic photograph of wounded and bleeding American soldiers on the cover of today's edition of Stars and Stripes was good journalism. With many family members of deployed soldiers here in Germany, the anxiety and stress this will undoubtedly cause has to be seen as totally inappropriate at best and callously sadistic at worst. Since this is a large, front page photo, how does someone prevent their children from seeing this tragedy? What is the journalistic intent of presenting this scene to the children of deployed soldiers? Don't they have enough material from which to create nightmares? I normally don't take offense at the many unprofessional journalistic choices made by your editors, but this has crossed the line by an enormous margin.
Far from minimizing those comments, they are just the kind of considerations taken into account when editors weigh publication of a sensitive photo. This was not an automatic choice, and not made without thoughtful consideration and discussion. As I put it in the earlier blog post, I think the newsroom made the right decision, for the right reasons, in the right way.