Saturday, September 5, 2009

Realities of War? An Update

As I noted at my post on Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, "Realities of War?":

This is obviously touchy. My own view is that the public gets inadequate coverage of our wars, and certainly press blackouts raise questions of government suppression of speech.
I also noted that Bernard's father requested that AP not publish the photograph of his son's last moments. Also, photographer Julie Jacobson violated the embed's contract she signed not to publish images of wartime casualties without consent of the parties.

The response has been tremendously emotional, with good reason. I cited at my post the comments from the soldier at
Afghan Quest, who called "bullshit" on the whole thing.

But there's another side on the question of publishing battlefield images, and Jules Crittenden really captures the essential compromise position in his post, "
Professional Issues." Jules notes how Jacobson, the photographer, was accepted into the harsh environment by the Marines on the ground. They gave her the benefit of the doubt for enduring the same hardships, and ultimately accepted her as one of their own. Jules is clear to note that Jacobson violated ethics to forward the photos of Bernard to AP's headquarters. But check this out:

It’s a tough issue. Remember those shots of people falling from the Twin Towers? I know a photog who was there and didn’t shoot the jumpers, thought it was in bad taste. Too bad. Wrong call. You always shoot. Whether you publish or not is another matter. But the images other photogs shot of people falling were some of the most evocative photos, gut-punch photos that drove home exactly what was done to those people. The utter loneliness and resignation and finality of the act of falling when the alternative is burning. The image is etched in my brain. I’ve never forgotten it, any more than the deaths I have witnessed firsthand, that etched live images. It reminds me what this is about.

My professional feeling is, violent death happens and people should know about it. I don’t mind sticking it in people’s faces, and agree with some of Jacobson’s points on compelling people to acknowledge what is happening in their name and on their behalf. The United States government has struggled with this issue for a long time, initially banning photos of the dead in World War II, and then, for purposes of shocking the homefront, allowing publication of non-identifiable photos of the dead. Some of those photos, of GIs half buried in the sand at the waterline in the Pacific, are instantly recognized images that convey as best can be conveyed remotely the horror of an amphibious assault, a similar sense of loss, and the loneliness and finality of death much as the 9/11 jumper shots did, and a jarring sense what a generation of young men faced for us. Ernie Pyle described the dead intimately and poignantly in Normandy and Italy. Matthew Brady and others photographed them in their most vulnerable state, horrific states of decomposition that are at the same time heartwrenching and evocative, at Gettysburg, Antietam and other scenes of unimagineable carnage.

All that said, I entirely understand the reaction of families and grunts who don’t want their dead photographed.
There's more at the link, but that pretty much captures the balance of compromise that's been missing from a lot of the debate.

One of the more hysterical responses was
Cassandra's at Villainous Company. As noted, AP explicitly violated the family's requests for non-publication, etc. But where Cassandra goes off the handle is in extrapolating the Marine's photo with situations away from the battlefield:

So if we buy into the notion that we need to see the results of violent episodes to truly understand their consequences, does this mean the media will now begin showing graphic footage of rape victims who have been beaten or tortured or cut to shreds by their attackers?

Rape - and the tolerance of it - has a cost, both to the victim and to society. How can we fully understand the tragic cost of rape unless we are allowed to view their injuries and vicariously understand their pain? According to the press, we can't.

Child abuse has a cost. Therefore, if a child is sexually abused or beaten, we need to see graphic close-ups of their torn vaginas or rectums. We need to see graphic photos of that little boy whose father ate his eyes. Otherwise, it's just too easy to gloss over the horrific damages - both mental and physical - done to these innocent victims. We have a right to know.

Would this further humiliate and traumatize the victims and their families? Undoubtedly. But the public's "need to know" outweighs silly concerns about the victim or family members who may be equally traumatized.
Here we get over to Cassandra's well-know proclivity to injecting hard-left-wing feminist perspectives into the debate. What we also see are rank double-standards and more of her ignorant hypocrisy. Recall how Cassandra attacked me for my initial report on the Erin Andrews scandal, and specifically my argument that the story was newsworthy. Here's what Cassandra wrote in reply (and the block quote at the middle there is mine):

For days I went out of my way not to make this personal. I've had many conservations with Donald in the past. As he repeatedly points out, he's hardly the only one who seems unable to understand that daring to work as a sportscaster or being "newsworthy" does not constitute voluntary surrender of the right to privacy in situations where any of us ought to have a reasonable expectation of privacy:

I wouldn't photograph my neighbor in a bikini by the pool, getting out of the shower topless, or shaving her legs in the bathroom. I am linking to the post though, for the purposes of argument. The difference between the Erin Andrew link and those links right here is that the latter have absolutely zero news values.

Good thing his neighbor isn't a Gold Star mother whose son was just killed in Iraq or Afghanistan! That would be newsworthy, and according to the media public curiosity about sensationalistic stories trumps all over considerations. It would seem many folks agree.

Okay, so here we have a young Marine killed in Afghanistan and Cassandra's attacking AP's argument that publishing Bernard's picture was indeed newsworthy.

So, what's it going to be? The fact is, for Cassandra all the talk about rape victims and the privacy of your naked mother in a hotel room are EMOTIONAL appeals, not rational ones. And these all come back to Cassandra's radical feminist perspective that it's (1) wrong to violate privacy in furtherance of public news values, and (2), because specifically there's an essential system of exploitation of women at work that makes all wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters at risk.

Cassandra is a military wife, so we should give her the benefit of the doubt beyond feminist hysteria. Still, there may be a case for sharing images of battle dead with the public that goes beyond news: It's the extention of service postumously. As miltary wife
Lily Burana has written:
Within my own circle of active-duty military and veterans' wives, the numbers are little different. In fact, they're in constant flux, as we hotly debate the issue at playgrounds, in cafes and on blogs ...

One acquaintance, favoring privacy, said that if the worst were to happen to her husband and someone wielding a camera dared to elbow in on her family's grief, she'd "open up a can of Army wife whoop-ass." The image of the modern military spouse is half-frontier wife, half-Care Bear -- by turns stoically able and cooingly comforting. But when it comes to acting on behalf of our kin and the larger military family, make no mistake: Wives are warriors too.

I get where the privacy-or-else camp is coming from. Though I could not have anticipated this when I married a soldier in 2002, I have come to care for troops and their families with a ferocity that words fail to elucidate. My instinct is to wave away onlookers, to protect, to defend. The civilian world, in particular the media, is justifiably suspect. Though I have an occupational link to that realm, I harbor my own mistrust of the media, along with some cynicism about a public that fetishizes the warrior class yet can't wholly understand it. Times are stressful enough for military families without adding fear of exploitation.

But as much as I relate to the protective stance of "No, you can't come in," I respect those who would welcome the media, saying, in essence, "Take him, he's yours too. He is our country's son." Let these photos be his final act of service. In the name of honor and authenticity, I want the American people to see how the military respects its own, in aching ceremonial flourish, down to the last detail -- caskets being carefully loaded on planes; the gun salute; the rap-tap-tap of the sticks on the snare drum rim, marking the cortege cadence in the graveyard.
Mrs. Burana's discussion is focusing primarily on Secretary Gates' decision to open media access to Dover Air Force Base. But her mention of the "worst that could happen" is in fact what happened to Lance Cpl. Bernard.

Folks might also check out this essay at BAGnews, "
Photo of a Dying Marine: The Larger View":

First, my condolences to the family of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard. Although I believe strongly in the release of this image, noting that a month had passed since his death (and the release of more heroic images), and that Joshua had since been buried and the family informed in advance that the photo would be published, I also recognize the family's opposition and the additional pain it has caused.

That said, I have a few takes on the controversy surrounding the release of this photo....

1. Given that the military's rules for visually documenting images of American casualties is so restrictive that it effectively constitutes ongoing censorship and corporate media is so skittish in the face of political push back, the fact this single photo of an American casualty even made the light of day is quite remarkable.
And that brings us back full circle, to my original post, and my reservations against the Pentagon's aggressive reporting restrictions, which "raise questions of government suppression of speech."

Given so much sensitivity on the issue, I can't say exactly how I would respond if faced with similar circumstances (being embedded and taking fatal battlefield images). That said, the discussion here has at least opened up the more hysterical arguments to inspection and placed the Bernard controversy in the larger historical frame of "
heartwrenching and evocative" wartime imagery.


repsac3 said...

It's a shame you included the bit about Cassandra. Given your history with her (and the fact that you relate it here in this post), it seemed a little more vindictive that informative.

Aside that, this is among your best posts, as you're willing to look at all sides of the issue, and admit that you're not sure there is one right answer.

While I believe the media should have the legal right to use legitimately newsworthy photographs, they have a moral obligation to balance newsworthiness against the privacy wishes of the person being photographed or, when they cannot express their wishes, the wishes of their families.

While there will always be some who prefer to keep their grief private, there will also always be those who, for one reason or another, choose to share their grief and the loved one they lost with the rest of us, and I agree that those latter families, no matter the reason for their choice, are allowing their loved one to serve their country one final time.

While it's sad that some families will find themselves in the position of having photographs published against their wishes, and that there will be times when the public will lose out on a better understanding of an issue because the media outlet chose to honor a families wishes, I believe that the system we have now is about right -- though I remain suspicious of the whole embed system.

Aside legitimate national security concerns, the military should not be dictating what stories and images they must or cannot use to a free media. (However, I agree that if the contract the photographer signed said she was restricted in what she could offer for publication, she should've lived up to her word, and not used those photographs. It's a bad rule that I believe reporters & photographers ought to refuse to sign, but those who do sign ought to live up to it.)

As for Cassandra (since you did bring it up), I believe she is playing the reductio ad absurdum game, or something like it, at least.

First of all, we do in fact see some of the physical effects of rape, on those victims who despite privacy concerns, are willing to show some of their injuries in the media or in public. Even very graphic images are "published" in court, where some members of the general public do see them.

Images of genitals etc. are for the most part kept out of the media whether the person is a soldier or a rape/incest victim, so I'm not sure her analogy holds.

And the fact that soldiers volunteer to serve their country and perhaps be maimed or killed, whereas crime victims do not, makes a difference, as well. The fact that whatever injuries a soldier sustains s/he receives on behalf of all of us means that we have an obligation to know what we're asking our military men & women to risk for us. There are very few situations where anyone (let alone the country) asks a woman to become a rape victim on another person's behalf.

On the other hand, Cassandra is right about one thing; Thankfully, relatively few of us really know what it means to be a victim of the kind of crimes she describes. While I'm not sure we need to or that it would help anyone if more of us did, she is right about the fact that few of us do. But while the tolerance for some crimes (like the video voyeurism of Erin Andrews, where the video was essentially a product of the crime) is too high, VERY few are similarly tolerating, celebrating or otherwise defending the acts of rape or incest, or any of the products thereof. And again, no one volunteers to put themselves as substantial risk of becoming victim of such a crime on behalf of their country.

While I admire her passion, Cassandra's arguments are way off base.

repsac3 said...

One or two more bits about Cassandra.

1) I'm not seeing the hard-left, radical feminism that Donald does, in either of her arguments. While Donald's actions & reactions would likely've been different, does anyone doubt that Cassandra would've reacted any differently were it hottie sports reporter "Eric" Andrews who was videotaped in a hotel room naked, and fellow conservatives like Donald (though more likely "Donna" Douglas) were providing links to the illegally shot video, in hopes of increasing their blog traffic?

Does anyone think that Cassandra's arguments about rape & incest victims would be any more or less forcefully argued by her if the majority of victims were men & boys, rather than women & girls? After reading a good deal of what she's written before and since, I sure don't.

While yes, gender does play a part in sexual exploitation--be it voyeurism or rape--I submit that Cassandra's arguments against re-victimizing Erin Anderews and against photographing rape or incest victims are not based on the gender of the victim, but on the fact that the victim is a victim.

2) Cassandra's argument in the Erin Andrews matter is not inconsistent with her position here. In both (all) cases, she believes that newsworthiness is not a sufficient argument for publishing photographs/videos of people against their (or their family's) will. That is true whether the person is a famous sports reporter, a member of the military who was injured or killed in the line of duty, or a rape/incest victim.

While I don't agree with her argument equating soldiers with crime victims, her argument is both consistent, and at least as rational as it is emotional.

Of course YMMV...

AmPowerBlog said...

Repsac3: Duh, Cassandra's hysteria is central to the piece. You can't understand what's happening if it's always some kind of oppressive program against women's privacy, which is what Cassandra's all about. It's not a "shame" to bring up her inconsistency, since she gets a lot of play on the right side of the net.

What's interesting is that you actually took Cassandra and Little Miss Attila's side in the E.A. debate, and once again this post shows Cassandra's total lack of analytical consistency and rigor. I think she's wrong, all along, pure and simple.

(Funny how you "like" the posts when I'm critical of conservatives, and of course, since Cassandra's not, you defend her on feminism. Typical.)

repsac3 said...

You're a pip, professor.

You're welcome to your opinion, of course, but the assertions you make in your comments deserve more in depth explanations than your simple declarations of truth.

Twice you've declared that Cassandra's replies to the two issues (visual representations of Erin Andrews in the media "vs" visual representations of soldiers, or rape victims in the media) are inconsistent, but both times you fail to point out why. I stand by my assertion that her opinion remains consistent throughout; Newsworthiness alone isn't a satisfactory reason to violate a person's privacy by publishing visual representations of them without their (or their family's) consent, whether the person in question is Erin Andrews, Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, or a victim of rape.

As for being "critical of conservatives" that's exactly the kind of stupid black vs white thinking that for once, was missing from your original post. The issue is far more nuanced than that, with the usual battle lines that you live by pretty much erased. People of all political stripes are all over the map on this, with many (including you, in the original post) able to see that there is validity in the thoughts and feelings of those in favor of releasing such photos, as well as those opposed to their use.

I didn't "defend Cassandra on feminism." I denied that feminism played much of a role in her opinions in either situation, and went on to explain why. I invite those reading to hop on over to Cassandra's and decide for themselves whether or not she's a conservative &/or a radical feminist. In my humble the good professor's all wet on that issue for sure, but read a few of her posts and decide for yourselves...

It was a good post... Too bad you mucked it up and dove right on back to the safety of your "us vs them" binary thinking in your subsequent comment.

Old Blue said...

There is a place for emotion in this issue. Cassandra's emotions are a central concern here; no one but a military family member can adequately imagine what it would be like to see their loved one in a situation that is fatally dire, a situation that they had feared for a long time, even if in the back of their minds, and a situation which they were not present for and could not offer assistance in.

I do not see the parallel in the images of unrecognizable Civil War dead or unidentifiable falling jumpers from the WTC. Very few pictures of war dead in the past have been recognizable to the families of the same, being representative instead of all the dead. Each family could wonder, "Is that him?" but could scarcely tell for sure. This is different.

This is a case of a man specifically identified. There is no other outcome than pain for the family who has asked the wire service not to release the photo. I have seen this photo used already as part of political argument on the internet, to illustrate a point. LCpl Bernard's family likely objected in part due to this type of behavior. It belittles his memory to make him a pawn in a political argument.

Yes, I am a volunteer. As such, I believe that I am in even greater position to say, "No. I do not wish for the image of my death or grievous injury to be made available to be a cheap political trick." That is undeniably part of this equation. Withholding the gory evidence of our sacrifices, if it is our decision or that of our families, is not keeping any special knowledge from the American people. Witnessing the image of any of our deaths is not educational. Carnage is something that you can live quite happily without, though the morbid curiosity exists. One thing that I feel that I can ask of the American people is to forgo the dubious pleasure or whatever educational value they may receive from viewing my freshly torn asunder corpse so that my children may be spared even one glimpse of their father rendered road kill in the service of their country.

Many things have changed since the days of Brady and Pyle (the latter of whom generally described the dead in words and not images). In the information age, we have the capability to ask the question of the family in a timely manner. If the family feels that it is respectful, then that is their right. Personally, I would never give permission. I wish to spare my children any indignity and I do not wish to feed anyone's political agenda by becoming their posthumous poster child.

Ancient arguments that any images of our carnage are public domain are as antiquated as Matthew Brady's camera. In these times, my family is owed the option, not whatever crumb a "grateful nation" will throw them as long as they can sate their desires for what, in my mind, is war porn voyeurism.

Now; speak to me of honor. Speak to me of rights. Speak to me of everyone's rights superseding the right of a parent to protect his child when the only interest of the masses is for entertainment or "education". Speak to me, everyone, about your rights to put up images of my death or dismemberment that will scar my children. Then speak to me about honoring my service and that of my brothers and sisters.

Any argument pales in comparison to my love for my children and my sincere desire that they be spared any such pain. No; you do not have the "right" to harm my children physically or emotionally simply because I have died in the service of my country.

Thanks for trying to present both sides of the issue, but there are some issues on which I will not equivocate. Keep up the good work.