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Censorship of the Media’s War Coverage

The New York Times recently reported on the story of one embedded journalist who was stripped of his access to covering the war because he published photos of dead American soldiers from the platoon he was with. As the article points out, after five years of war, it is difficult to find more than a half-dozen photographs of dead American soldiers. Obviously, photographs of dead American soldiers are ones that no one wants to see. But the fact that these images are so scarce after five years, 4,000 deaths, and over 30,000 wounded underscores the point that the American people are not being told the true cost of the war. It is being hidden from view. Which, as the article points out, is a complex issue.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson, and Rita Leistner are war photographers who published one of the first photography books covering the cost—and the human side—of the Iraq war. See Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq for more.

From the article:

If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists — too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts — the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme.

[…]

While the Bush administration faced criticism for overt political manipulation in not permitting photos of flag-draped coffins, the issue is more emotional on the battlefield: local military commanders worry about security in publishing images of the American dead as well as an affront to the dignity of fallen comrades. Most newspapers refuse to publish such pictures as a matter of policy.

But opponents of the war, civil liberties advocates and journalists argue that the public portrayal of the war is being sanitized and that Americans who choose to do so have the right to see — in whatever medium — the human cost of a war that polls consistently show is unpopular with Americans.

Journalists say it is now harder, or harder than in the earlier years, to accompany troops in Iraq on combat missions. Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. Detainees were widely photographed in the early years of the war, but the Department of Defense, citing prisoners’ rights, has recently stopped that practice as well.

And while publishing photos of American dead is not barred under the “embed” rules in which journalists travel with military units, the Miller case underscores what is apparently one reality of the Iraq war: that doing so, even under the rules, can result in expulsion from covering the war with the military.

“It is absolutely censorship,” Mr. Miller said. “I took pictures of something they didn’t like, and they removed me. Deciding what I can and cannot document, I don’t see a clearer definition of censorship.”

Read the full article.


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