Dave Lindorff: Censorship American-Style: Hide the US Dead

The Obama administration's freak-out, as expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, over the Associated Press Agency's belated circulation of a photograph of a dying US soldier in Afghanistan, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, is the latest of example of the hypocrisy of US authorities who claim to be concerned about the feelings of American military families, while really simply desiring to censor the war's horrors from the eyes of the American people.

The truth: Americans until only the last 18 years, have been able to see the carnage of war as it has been felt by our own troops from as long ago as there were cameras. Pioneering photographer and war chronicler Matthew Brady brought home the horrors of the US Civil War with photos like this one of dead Union and Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Antietam.

In World War II, while the military tried to prevent publication of the photos of dead American troops at first, by 1944, President Roosevelt lifted the ban, hoping that the images would fire up American resolve on the home front.

Although it was a much less popular war, photos of American dead were plentiful from the Korean War.

Vietnam was awash in press photographers, and the Pentagon never banned them from depicting American casualties.

In fact, when American policy-makers talk about the "lesson of Vietnam," they generally aren't talking about the real lesson of not sending American troops to fight unpopular wars, or of not intervening on the side of corrupt regimes in wars of national liberation, or of not fighting in wars where there is no chance of the US winning. They're talking about the "lesson" of not letting the American people learn the real nature and cost of the war in question.

That's why journalists -- and particularly American journalists -- since Vietnam have been kept on short leashes, and why they are vetted by Pentagon officials and hired media "experts" before they are allowed to be "embedded" with units in the field. It's why the Reagan administration had a navy destroyer turn its guns on, and threaten to sink a small boat carrying reporters trying to make its way to Grenada to cover the US invasion of that island. And it's why since the Gulf War in 1990-91, photographs of American battlefield dead have been banned.

AP deserves credit for finally breaking the ban and offering its photo of a dying soldier, shot in a firefight with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan--even if the news agency did wait three weeks to offer the photo to subscribers. The real shame is that so few American newspapers and electronic media organizations chose to run that photo.

Gates claims that AP was "insensitive" to the dead soldier's relatives, but it's hard to see how that can be. The real insensitive thing would be to try to hide his death from the public, as the Pentagon wanted to do. Hell, if the Afghan War is worth fighting, it should be worth dying for, and if it's worth dying for, and if young soldier Bernard gave his life for his country, his death and the manner of his death should not be hidden from his countrypeople. We should all see the terrible price he paid acting in our name.

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed American soldiers dead on the beach in the Pacific in World War II being insensitive?

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed America's dead in Vietnam being insensitive?

Were the photographers and news organizations who showed America's dead in Korea being insensitive?

Was the photographer and news organization which dared to break the ban and publish a photo of America's dead in the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq being insensitive?

I don't think so.

Moreover, there is a terrible double standard at work here, if news organizations accept the censorship or deem it inappropriate to show dead American bodies, but go ahead and show dead bodies of the enemy -- photographs that the media seem to have no problem publishing (though surely it must be painful for their families).

After all, if all we see are dead enemy fighters, it might give the false impression that the war in question -- in this case the Afghanistan War, or what might now be called Obama's War -- is a one-sided affair where the only terrible casualties are those suffered by the "enemy," not by "our boys."

Enough with the censorship! If we are going to be a warlike nation, if we are going to have a public that cheers everytime the government ships off men and women to fight and kill overseas in countries that most Americans cannot even locate on a globe, then let's make sure that everyone at least gets to see the blood and gore in full, including our own, and of course, also the civilian casualties of our military.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net

The Times on a Real Estate Deal Gone (Deservedly) Bad

The New York Times on page one today looks at the fate of the buyout of Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. It's about as close as a story will get to saying: It's going bust in five months or less. And it couldn't happen to a nicer couple of companies. Stuy Town and Peter Cooper are a...

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Over at The New Yorker’s site, George Packer has published some powerful thoughts about the death of Sultan Munadi. An excerpt: In Iraq and Afghanistan and a growing number of other places, the foreign correspondent would be a target with or without the fixer, but the fixer is a target because he or she is with the foreign...

Graydon Carter Also Exempt From McKinsey Evaluation?

20-GraydonCarter-022508It might just be wishful thinking on his part — up until now, the only person exempt from the McKinsey inquisition has reportedly been The New Yorker’s David Remnick — but here’s what Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter had to say to the New York Observer at a book party last night about. A good attitude can get you far in life, you know.

We asked Mr. Carter if he’d already had his meeting.

“What meeting?” he said.

The one with the McKinsey people!

“No, no,” Mr. Carter said, emphatically. “They’re not gonna meet with me.”

They’re not?


Then how are they going to decide what to do with your magazine?

“How are they what? I have no idea,” Mr. Carter said cheerfully. “We haven’t found out yet. I’m sure they’ll have some brilliant ideas.”

Perez Hilton: Facts or Phalluses?

I do not hate Perez Hilton. But I hate what Perez Hilton has done to journalism. He routinely reports rumors as if they are real stories without bothering to fact-check them. Consequently, because of his tremendous reach, inaccurate gossip becomes gospel.

Since Perez doesn’t expend time or effort verifying stories, he is able to quickly break “news” while real reporters are slowly toiling away calling sources, getting the facts, and seeking official statements. And thanks to Perez’s rapid reporting style, the blogger has been able snare a series of scoops, including the death of Fidel Castro.

As you may recall, two years ago Perez posted several stories announcing that the Cuban leader had passed away. He even took on the venerable Wall Street Journal, claiming he was right and the newspaper was wrong. Ironically, it will be Perez who will be able to gloat one day that he was “the first to break” the news of Fidel Castro’s death – albeit a few years prematurely.

But when Perez isn’t getting stories wrong, he’s offering his insightful commentary, which he does by defacing photos of celebrities with drawings of cocaine specks under their noses and genitals on their faces.

As a veteran celebrity journalist, I prefer facts over phalluses. That’s why I created GossipCop.com, which daily patrols hundreds of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and TV shows in an effort to separate all the fact from fiction in entertainment journalism.

This morning alone GossipCop.com noted how Perez filed two false reports within minutes. The first inaccurate story had the singer John Mayer secretly dating “The Hills” star Kristin Cavallari for the past two years. It must have been such a secret because neither Mayer nor Cavallari even knew about. The second story had Brad Pitt buying his kids an $82,000 gerbil run that reportedly features mazes, tunnels, and seesaws, among other amenities. GossipCop.com smelled a rat – sorry for mixing rodents – when we first read that bogus story a few days ago in the U.K.’s Sun.

Essentially, this morning Perez Hilton not only posted two (so far) fabricated rumors, but for a guy who doesn’t waste his precious time fact checking, he was also late – and not “late,” as in the “the late Fidel Castro.”

Granted, a lot of people dismiss celebrity reporting as that murky area of journalism where there’s latitude for innuendo and additional space for hyperbole. But whether it’s celebrity reporting or political reporting, it’s still reporting, and stories need to be reported out through fact checking.

It’s time for Perez Hilton to be held accountable, because ultimately – whether it’s sports, politics or entertainment – the public wants and deserves accuracy over outrageousness.

Note – this post was first featured in Huffington Post.

John Stossel/Mother Ship

And, now, all is just a little more right with the world: John Stossel, longtime 20/20 correspondent and the media's most well-known libertarian...is leaving ABC. For--yes--Fox News. TVNewser has the details.