Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard | Should His Photo Have Published?

Does the Media’s Right to a Story Outweigh Human Decency?

Whats more important: our right to know or a familys right not to suffer needlessly? (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

What's more important: our right to know or a family's right not to suffer needlessly? (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

That’s a question that’s sure to strike up controversy. On the one hand, there is great value to a free press in a democratic society. That holds true in war time, as the American people have the right to know just how things are going for their loved ones in harm’s way. Knowing how their government interprets the successes and failures of the war effort (and how that gels with media coverage) is a right the citizenry possesses. Keeping up with the views of our elected officials is how we decide whether they should remain in office or be on the average Joe circuit, where a loan until payday can help them from coming up short now and again.

But there is another side to the issue of whether photos of mortally wounded (now deceased) Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard in Afghanistan should have been published by the Associated Press. His family begged not to have their son represented in such a state. The argument is that not publishing pictures of him after his legs were blown off by a rocket propelled grenade would have been the decent thing to do.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates objected “in the strongest terms”

That’s how Politico describes Gates’ stance against the AP and their decision to run the photo. Not all media outlets chose to run it, but the Associated Press did. The 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Mr. Bernard was maimed horribly by a Taliban RPG. Gates attempted to reason with AP President and CEO Thomas Curley that printing the photos would be devastating to Bernard’s family and achieve nothing but to stir up sensationalism.

Yet Curley decided it was more important to “convey the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it,” as if we weren’t aware of that already. I hope that between suing the Shepard Faireys of the world and printing pictures of maimed soldiers to garner awards, the Associated Press takes a moment to look in the mirror and take in their increasing lack of relevance. They aren’t the only game in town, as services like Reuters and the BBC clearly indicate. Twitter even factors into that equation now.

“EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT”

That’s the entirety of the AP disclaimer that accompanied the photo of Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard. Secretary Gates pled with Curley that “The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.” He knew publishing the photo would cause the Bernard family great pain. As former President George W. Bush said well over 2,000 days ago, “Mission accomplished.”

The AP did wait until after Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard’s funeral before publishing the photo. They believe they acted “in accordance with military regulations surrounding journalists embedded with U.S. forces,” writes Politico. But I want to know why an AP reporter bothered to show the photos to the parents ahead of time if they were going to publish anyway. Of course the parents objected from the beginning. What a slap in the face of human decency by our free media. Were there no other images that could have been used to document the history of this war in Afghanistan? If you were out of film, perhaps a loan until payday would have helped.

“AP Impact – Afghan – Death of a Marine”

This is the title of the photo exhibit that included Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, and that title will live on in American history books. You got your wish, AP. You are also absolutely disgusting.

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