A Matter of Ethics?

marineI must admit, I’m torn on this one.

In the past few days, there has been some discussion about the AP running a photograph of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua “Bernie” Bernard, injured and dying. According to this story, there was much soul-searching and debate over whether to run the picture, as part of a photographic journal of the War in Afghanistan. Cpl. Bernard’s family requested that the photo not be released, but the responsible editors – those who own the photographs – made the decision to publish the photo, as part of a larger story. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed his disappointment over this picture being run, and the responses coming from comments from newspaper readers and blog readers run the gamut from “I find the decision to be a disgusting one,” from a Twitter commenter, to “A picture is worth a thousand words. I applaud your courage to distribute the photo and the story of the death of Lance Cpl. Bernard,” from a gentleman named Ruiz, who identifies himself as a fellow Marine.

I am torn. I can only imagine the anguish that the family is enduring, and completely understand why they would not want the photo to run. On the other hand, photos like this exist from both World Wars, from Vietnam, from Korea, and as far back as the Civil War, so why shouldn’t pictures be run from this war, as well? War is not pretty. Deaths happen in war, and death has been so sanitized by today’s movies, games, and TV, sometimes we need to see it for real to remind us that it is not a game.

On the OTHER other hand… we are approaching Sept. 11. Where are the photos of that horror? What happened right after the Twin Towers went down? The news media, as a group, decided that the pictures were “too disturbing” to show, that our children were too delicate, that our sensibilities would be offended, if they showed those pictures.

And, on the other other OTHER  hand, should the feelings of the family or families come into play? While I understand that the family of that young Marine, or the families of the 9/11 victims, might not want the photos run, should those feelings be considered, or is this one place where the good of the many really should take precedence over the needs of the few?

So which is it? Yes, war is hell. Yes, people die. The question is, do we need to see it on the pages of our newspapers? And if we need to see a young Marine “in the throes of death,” as one radio announcer described, shouldn’t we also see the photos from the event that caused that Marine to give his life?

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21 Responses to A Matter of Ethics?

  1. SKL says:

    Well, this is a tough question. But my gut tells me that it’s wrong to use death, and images of death, to further a purpose. I’m not sure it matters what purpose is being furthered.

    I feel that the moment when people die is one of their most private moments, and it ought to stay that way.

    Another consideration is that the dying person did not have a chance to weigh in on whether he wanted to be photographed and for those photographs to be published. True, he’s dead now, but if the picture was taken before he was dead, it’s still an invasion of his privacy to publish it.

    Think of the moment when life begins. Not many women would want that moment photographed for all to see. Maybe for their own personal, private use, but not for publication. Why is that? Well, it’s a moment when the subject doesn’t have control over her own body and expressions, and doesn’t know for sure what’s going to happen next; it’s graphic; and it’s an intimate, private moment (doctors/nurses/etc. notwithstanding). Some women will consent to having those photos published (after they have a chance to review them), but they have the right to say no. A person photographed while dying hasn’t been given that right. But if he were, what are the chances that he would say “yes”? I’m pretty sure nobody I know would agree to that.

    I also feel that the families’ wishes should have been respected.

    I’m not sure it’s beneficial to look at photographs / videos of death. Although it gives a visual of the “real thing,” it can’t simulate the human feeling of being in the presence of a dying person. Hence it seems to me that people would become more desensitized toward death. It’s true that we need people to understand what war really is / does, but I’m not sure graphic photos of a soldier’s final moments are the best way to ensure that.

  2. Vicki says:

    Ive thought about this question before because i have been in different countries and have seen what they are able to show the public on tv, its like they have no limitations. the first time ever seeing the “gore” I thought OMG i can’t believe they are able to show that stuff..made me realize how much is hidden or kept from us.
    I think its ok to show this because its fact and the reality of what is really happening.

  3. Joy says:

    I need a lot of extra hands on this one too. The first thing though I feel for is the family. I can’t even imagine the horror of seeing that.

    Do I think it should be published? I guess I don’t but only from the standpoint of a parent. But I do know that a lot of other similar pictures, as you mentioned of other wars and catastrophes, have been. But did the parents and family of those men and women ask they not be? Were they given this choice, and or, if did they have the knowledge that they were published somewhere? Back in other times, we didn’t have this amazing thing called the Internet where we know things “right now.”

    Death is so private and I’d hate to see this but on my other, other, other hand, there is freedom of the press and if we saw it in print, we don’t have to buy it.

    I just don’t have enough hands for this one.

  4. mssc54 says:

    I sat here for a good while fighting the urge to just blast a response out.

    As many of you know my family knows all to well the realities of (this) war. http://mssc54.wordpress.com/our-american-hero/

    Yes the family of Lance Corporal Joshua ‘Bernie’ Bernard was visited by an AP reporter prior to the photos being released. The father asked that the photos NOT be released because it would only cause the family more grief. Secretary of Defense Gates (both in a letter and in a phone call) pleaded with the AP to honor the family’s wishes.

    Here’s what I (personally) think was discussed. “Yes we know it will hurt the family but just think of all the papers we will sell.”

    Dispicable and self serving is what it is.

    Do we really need a picture like that published to know that war is ugly? Really?

    There are lots of things that are dispicable that are photographed and the photographs are not published. If you were raped would you want your picture published all beaten up and bloody? I mean it happened and it’s horrible and people need to know! When a drunk driver kills a care load of people shouldn’t we publish those photographs? I mean drunk driving kills tens of thousands of people! It happens right here in our towns every year. Published their maimed, bloody, lifeless bodies? I think not.

    I think we also have the right to know how much $$$ the AP made off of selling that mortally wounded Marines images too!!!

    BASTARDS EVERY ONE OF THEM!!! I’m trying to work myself up to wishing them harm but I just can’t.

  5. Tosha says:

    OKay.. Lets see if I can get out of this with out being flamed for my opinion.

    FIRST. Let me state that in no way shape or form should a photo(s) be used with out a families permission. It should NOT happen. For many many reasons. No media source should be allowed to use photos with out the families permission even more so photos like this.

    That said.

    No we don’t need photos to prove a war is bad. We already know that. We don’t need the photos. The death total on both sides is enough proof for all.


    Photos of good and bad, death and life, right and wrong. They are going to be there. No matter the reasons. It could be art, documenting history, personal, political agenda, etc. There will always be photos. We see photographs of car wrecks, train wrecks, murders, suicides. Blood spilled on the ground. We see it all in the media. Its part of life. People can’t help but looking and those who can. More power to you.

    Sure its hard to look at. Sure a political agenda makes it wrong. And yes its VERY VERY wrong for the AP to have published the pictures. But its going to happen. There will always be pictures. Doesnt make it right and it doesnt mean I agree with it but they will always be there.

    The history books are well documented with death. Photographs of death. We never flame them for the pictures, the gore, etc. We hold it in high regards and think our younger generations should learn about the tragedy and what lead up to it. Even if it is biased and it will ALWAYS be biased. It’s always going to be what they want/allow you to know. The difference between our history books and the books of the future is technology. Back then they didnt have the technological power we do now. Taking pictures in the middle of a battle field didn’t come easily. Documentation was harder. It’s all right on their finger tips now. Reporters are taken into war zones now. They are kidnapped by the enemy. They put their lives in danger to get these photos that just astound and piss off people but I can’t fault them 100% for it. No matter how much I disagree with selling the photos I can’t fault them fully for it because a part of me is glad for the documentation. Part of me is glad the proof is there.

  6. This is definitely a serious moral dilemma that you pose… I feel that the picture shouldn’t be shown because the family expressly wished that it not be. There could have been an equally interesting article with a large inviting title that would draw in readers even if there were no picture. Of course, pictures sell more papers today, and so I can see how the newspaper benefited [newspapers are, after all, a business struggling in today’s economy just like many other businesses.]

  7. Sue says:

    I haven’t seen the picture nor do I want to by the sounds of it. I think that they used the picture to sell papers plain and simple. That family should get a percentage of the profit; a steep percentage so then maybe those who cry free speech would grow a heart (even if it’s little) and decide that the family’s privacy is just as important as their bottom line.

  8. Lucy says:

    I think they should have respected the families wishes. I think there would be plenty of other families out there that would be willing to allow the photos to be published.

  9. nikki says:

    I think it should be up to the families. Like Lucy just said, there will be families willing to share. Heaven forbid this happen to anyone I love, I would NOT want pictures shown.
    I do not think we need any pictures to be honest, we all are very aware what war looks like. It’s the one of thee worst things that happens in this world, has been going on in some way since the beginning of time and in some way will always go on. We don’t need the reminder. 😦

  10. Gary says:

    I’m like you Joy, I see both sides of this one and am pretty torn about it. I certainly understand the wishes of the family but also understand where the AP is coming from.

    I’m probably going to be stoned to death for this one but we are a society that believes in “out of sight, out of mind.” We all know war is a bad thing and many people CLAIM they know what war looks like but unless you have been there yourself, how can you REALLY know what it’s like for those poor bastards over there?

    My grandfather was in WWII and told me MANY stories. It gave me a good idea of what the war was like for HIM but NOT everyone else. I wasn’t there so I would never CLAIM to know what it was like.

    • nikki says:

      You’re right, we don’t truly know unless we are there and pictures don’t even paint the whole story. Me, as a mother would want the right to say no and have that right respected.

    • mssc54 says:

      I’ve never been swimming in a sewage treatment plant… but I’ve heard it’s pretty nasty.

      Any takers? After all we REALLY won’t know until…

      • Joy says:

        No thanks for the offer but I’ll pass.

      • Gary says:

        I would imagine it is pretty nasty. However, I don’t believe that what’s floating around in the sewage plant really cares if you know what it’s like.

        I do believe that some of the soldiers fighting over there WOULD like us to know what it’s like for them on a daily basis.

        I’m not saying the AP did right or wrong with the photo.

        I believe you just compared apples to oranges here mssc54.

        • mssc54 says:

          I was thinking about the people who have to work in the stinky environment. People never give it a second thought. They just throw their razor blades in the toilet and flush away. They dig all the goo ouf of their ears and flush away. And don’t even get me started on the female products that get flushed away either.

          But NOOOOOOO we just do our thing in our toilets, flush it away and NEVER give it a second thought. Just imagine (because none of us really know for sure) the immunizations those workers have to have. Can you also imagine the odor?! I mean that odor MUST get in their hair and clothes (I guess since I’ve never even seen a picture of a sewage treatment plant).

          The thing is Gary that unless you HAVE been in these shoes it is very difficult to imagine the emotion, heartache, dispare, anger and even pride that we families who HAVE had our loved ones KIA go through.

          However, not every person or family will want the same thing. Some families will want privacy and some will want front page coverage (Cindy Sheehan).

          The heartbreaking story of Lance Corporal Joshua ‘Bernie’ Bernard is a deeply personal story. The wishes of this family should have been honored. After all if the TRUE motive was to “get the word out” there are plenty of others who are and will be maimed and killed.

          The bottom line (in my correct opinion) is that people in anguish should not be put to further distress simply because another person (or people) feel like they NEED to know.

          You just really can’t and don’t want to feel all of those emotions. It is already enough of a life altering experience.

  11. javajunkee says:

    even with us “seeing” pictures what does that change? The family wishes should have been granted and if I were them I would be seeking legal action. We see pictures does this end the war? NO. Does this usually change the minds of people for or against the war? No and what good does that do anyhow…the government says we are at war..there we are.
    My BIL kept HORRIFIC pictures in a photo album from when he was in Vietnam. They were awful. I remember being a kid and seeing that and wondering why in the world he would have ever wanted pictures of dead people in a photo album. I don’t know if he was proud that he had dead vietnamese people in a picture book…but that memory eventually sent him over the deep end and ultimately took his life.
    I just think there are other ways to get the point across and still not sure what point was trying to be made. I think like others have said we all at some point have seen enough pictures of death and stuff from real life situations. I will NEVER forget the pictures coming from Columbine. That too is an important time of our lives as well as the other school shootings. I mean when is enough enough?

  12. MoodSwingMabel says:

    I believe the families wishes should have been followed. This was their son!

    I just close my eyes and shudder to imagine if this was my son we were talking about. That is somebody’s CHILD!

    People think and react too fast with their opinions without considering what it might feel like to have something this devastating happen to your own family, or child.

    In this nasty, cruel, at time despicable world we live in – this “stuff” always happens to someone else. But, sadly, it CAN happen to us – and when it does…. I’m sure we’d all appreciate our wishes respected.

  13. SKL says:

    The whole concept of “if people know, then improvements will be made” sounds great on paper, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are vulnerable human beings involved.

    On another site a while ago, one of the bloggers thought it was necessary to publicize the fact that a little adopted girl (who happens to be famous) was the product of rape. When called on this, he defended himself by saying that this knowledge would make people more aware of the prevalence and horrors of rape. Even assuming that is so (I frankly doubt it), there are better ways of accomplishing that end. This child and her siblings have to go to school and so on. They are in the public eye. Maybe some idiot reporter will even ask about this in an interview. Imagine how hard it is to digest something so horrible in private. Now imagine having to do so publicly, when you are in a vulnerable state (young, grieving, etc.) It is just unconscionable.

    Bottom line is, it is not someone else’s decision to make. If knowing my horrible experience might be of value to others, let me decide whether, when, and how to share it. Some unaffected person should not have the right to decide that I ought to make a sacrifice for society.

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