Media Blog

The Sniper Picture: Readers Respond

After reading almost all the commentary and fielding letters all afternoon, I’m still undecided about the issues raised by this sniper photo – but I am willing to say this: What has made people so angry about this particular episode is the language used by the NYT and on the photographer’s web site to describe his work. NYT assistant photo editor Michele McNally said that the photographer — a Portuguese man named Joao Silva — possessed “Incredible courage.” And Silva’s work is described on his web site as documenting the “faith, sacrifice, war and martyrdom” of Shi’a Iraqis who have the blood U.S. soldiers on their hands. This crosses the line from objective reporting and enters the realm of propaganda. Anti-U.S. propaganda. As reader C.J.B. writes, “He hasn’t infiltrated the terrorists. He’s on their side.  Is it okay for the NYT to employ someone who is on the terrorists’ side?” Pat B. adds:

Eason Jordan made a deal with Saddam’s regime to suppress any negative stories so CNN could maintain its contacts with the regime. It’s likely that photographer Joao Silva made a similar deal with the Iraqi terrorists. The product that emerges from these deals can’t be called news. It can only rightly be called propaganda.

Readers also have a problem with the fact that the U.S. military goes out of its way to protect journalists — even though, as in this case, they won’t return the favor. As reader B.L. writes, “If an ally can see an insurgent sniper aiming at a ‘neutral’ journalist, does he have ANY obligation towards stopping it?” We know that for our soldiers and Marines the answer to that question is yes. Mike F. adds:

I’m willing to abate my feelings on the photo and towards the journalist as long as his death isn’t labeled ‘tragic’ when a tank shell comes back through the window of the next sniper, or his buddies in the insurgency decide he is of better use being beheaded on tape.

That’s unlikely to happen (see Pat B.’s point above). However, I’m still unwilling to say that it’s never acceptable for a journalist to observe, record and report on the activities of hostile forces, even when they’re firing on our own side. We gain some valuable knowledge as an informed society from seeing the war from our enemy’s perspective. What’s outrageous is when those journalists actively spin for the enemy “martyrs” in the process, and when their patrons in the mainstream media refer to such propagandizing as “courageous.”

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