On the ‘Silver Lining’ of Coffin Photos

Media reporter DeWayne Wickham sees (USA Today, 3/3/09) the new Pentagon rules allowing photography of U.S. casualty coffins as “just the silver lining” around the dark cloud of a fact that “our free press is still being stage-managed by those who run the wars.” That the new regulations permit photos only “if the family of the war dead give permission” has Wickham acknowledging that “this will be a gut-wrenching decision for some families. But news organizations shouldn’t let such a policy–or the family’s wishes–dictate how they cover war news”:

This month marks the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war. Nearly 4,300 U.S. military personnel have been killed there since fighting began in 2003. The war in Afghanistan started in October 2001 and has taken more than 650 [U.S.] lives. Those losses might have been smaller, and the U.S. involvement shorter, if newspapers hadn’t given in to the Pentagon’s effort to sanitize coverage of this nation’s wars.

The pictures of war are an integral part of the storytelling of these great conflicts. And in a democratic society, people have a right to see these images and newspapers have an obligation to show readers both the good and bad that combat produces. That’s because the cost of war–though borne most heavily by those who are killed and their grieving relatives–is exacted from all of us. We all have a right to know, and visualize, the ultimate price that some of the men and women America sends into battle are forced to pay.

“By allowing the Pentagon to establish the rules for photographing the most telling evidence of the human cost of war,” Wickham tells us, “news organizations have abdicated a significant part of their reporting duty to those who manage America’s war machine.” If U.S. corporate media are this irresponsible about reportage of U.S. casualties, just imagine how they treat the deaths of U.S. “enemies”–or better yet, read about it in the FAIR magazine Extra!: “A Million Iraqi Dead?: The U.S. Press Buries the Evidence” (1-2/08) by Patrick McElwee.