The photos

The photos

: The amazing NewsDesigner has two illuminating posts on newspapers’ decisions on running photos regarding the murder of Nick Berg in Iraq. The first rounds up what papers did. The second sums up the debate that occurred at the Dallas Morning News, where the editors ran no photo from the murderers’ video but the editorial-page editors answered by running a photo of the slime holding up Berg’s severed (and obsured) head. The paper’s editorial:

The image you see here depicts an al-Qaeda terrorist brandishing the severed head of American hostage Nick Berg as a trophy of war. This is who the enemy is. This is what our nation is up against.

This edited image shows a terrorist holding up the head of Nick Berg. We have chosen to obscure Mr. Berg’s face. But it is important that our readers see in as much detail as reasonably possible what the Islamists have done to an innocent American civilian. It’s important because this is the fate al-Qaeda and its allies intend for every one of us in the West, and for the many Muslims who oppose their plans. (Though Arab media have generally downplayed this atrocity, it’s actually more important for the world’s Muslims to see what is being done in their name.)

Presenting this photograph, which was taken from an al-Qaeda-affiliated Web site, is important because of the power of image to shape public opinion. Shocking photographs have driven the Abu Ghraib prison atrocity story, which has now become a national crisis of confidence in this nation’s civilian and military leadership, and the mission in Iraq. If we show you images of Abu Ghraib abuses, and of soldiers’ coffins at Dover Air Force base because we think you should know the truth about this war, then we should show you this image, too.

Unfortunately, NewsDesigner was on vacation last week and did not cover Abu Ghraib photos similarly, but I’d love to see a chart comparing and contrasting the coverage.

I’ve been holding an internal debate on the use of photos in all the cases the Dallas editorial cites: the old, print editor in me is fighting with the new, transparent blogger in me. The blogger is winning. It’s important for us to know what is happening in Iraq.

There are limits in each case and those limits are moving targets.

In the case of the prison, it is important for us to be open about what happened there to show the world that we have nothing to hide; we will bring criminals on any side to justice. But it is also important that we not do this to such an extent that it incites more violence in Iraq.

In the case of Mr. Berg, the editorial is also quite right that we must expose the depths of evil of this enemy. If the world had seen pictures from Dachau in 1940, would more have joined the battle against Hitler; would Germans have joined the battle? But it is right to obscure Berg’s face; he is the victim and he should not be exploited.

Similarly, in the case of the Pentagon’s rules against taking pictures of soldiers’ coffins, I agree that this is part of the story we must be able to see. But families’ privacy must be respected. Today, Nick Berg’s sister angrily told media that they would be thrown out of his funeral and that’s her right.

What all this comes down to is what we in the business haughtily call editorial judgment. To tell the story, ou don’t need to show every photo from Abu Ghraib; you don’t need to show the worst of the execution of Nick Berg; you don’t need to show the casket at the altar. But the stories do need to be told and photos are part of telling the story.

  • mm

    But it is right to obscure Berg’s face; he is the victim and he should not be exploited.
    Faces are typically obscured to hide one’s identity, which is irrelevant here. Why blur the face, when it is the severed head that is most shocking. This just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Buzz

    I agree that it is an editorial decision, and a tough one at that. However, whereever the line is drawn, it will tend to cut the most extreme off of either side and therefore bias perceptions of either side towards the cut point.
    People who rightly argue that not showing the prison photos of torture at Abu Ghraib unduly biases world opinion towards a mythical sense of the innate goodness of American soldiers seem to miss the point that not showing the murders of Berg/Pearl/Fallujan contractors/Quattrone in all of their gory detail biases world opinion towards a mythical sense that our Al Qaeda enemies are reasonable folks making reasonable points. Arguing that it is enough to baldly state that Mr. Berg was beheaded while hinting at worse details is as ludicrous as arguing that the full impact of Abu Ghraib could have been gotten at without showing any of the pictures.
    It is as if I asked you to score on a scale of 1 to 10 atrocities committed by the US and by Al Qaeda, and you scored them 5 and 10 respectively. Then the media outlet that carries the news declares that they will only count to 5, and reports the atrocity scores of the US and Al Qaeda as 5 and 5 respectively. People watching the newscast tend to believe that the US is as bad as Al Qaeda.
    Why do the media outlets tolerate this kind of bias? It is for this reason that they are accused of being anti-American. If they must show the Abu Ghraib photos, then they should show the crimes of Al Qaeda in all their gory detail too, and let people gain their own perspectives from that.

  • http://www.shanksvillememorial.com furious

    Jeff:
    Re: “editorial judgment” — alas, it seems that “editorial judgement” in this country seems to err on the side of wearing down the nation’s resolve rather than angrying up its blood.
    “Editorial judgment” won’t permit replay of people trapped in the WTC jumping to their deaths rather than burning alive, but it will permit video and photos of innocent Iraqis fired on by US troops because they didn’t stop at a roadblock.
    “Editorial judgment” won’t permit the replay or stills of the torture, murder, and mutilation of Danny Pearl, but it will permit the endless replay of the indignities committed against Iraqis held in Coalition custody.
    “Editorial judgment”, again with the WTC jumpers, in order to “spare the survivors’ families the anguish”, but it will permit photos of wounded American soldiers or of the coffins of the fallen arriving at Dove, regardless of the anguish of military families.
    “Editorial judgment” prevails in pushing the successes we are having in Iraq — opening schools, restoring oil production, maintaining order in most of the country — to the back pages of the international section (if such stories appear at all), while swallowing without skepticism as authentic pornographic pictures actually lifted from websites in Hungary and Pennsylvania.
    If such “editorial judgment” had prevailed during, say, WWII, this country would have deluged in headlines about carnage on Omaha Beach and quagmire in the Hedgerows, but none about the Libertion of Paris. They would have read about the sinkings of the Yorktown and Hamann at Midway, but not about the ddestruction of the Japanese Fleet.
    Here, today, press-wise, it’s the Tet Offensive all over again, where US forces wiped out the Viet Cong in the South, but “editorial judgement” chose to show only the US embassy compound.
    “Editorial judgment” isn’t presenting both sides of the story, just the other side’s. And shame on them for it.
    –furious

  • http://www.theglitteringeye.com Dave Schuler

    Jeff:
    I’m of mixed minds on this subject. I see your point but I believe there are other considerations here, too. We tread a very thin line. The U. S. has the power to destroy the Arab world utterly. While we need to mobilize public opinion in the U. S. as to the nature and seriousness of the enemy we need to take care not to inflame U. S. opinion into indiscriminate violence.

  • Kat

    I think every man, woman, and child should see that video–and know that this is our enemy. It should be front page news in every paper–but instead the Boston Globe runs fake photos from a porn site claiming them to be US soldiers raping Iraqi women–but they say they got them from a good and reliable source–The Nation of Islam.(Barf bag, please). Wake up , America!

  • mm

    “Editorial judgment” won’t permit the replay or stills of the torture, murder, and mutilation of Danny Pearl, but it will permit the endless replay of the indignities committed against Iraqis held in Coalition custody.
    **Perhaps that’s becuase the media/public value the dignity/privacy of an American more than of an anonymous Iraqi.
    “Editorial judgment”, again with the WTC jumpers, in order to “spare the survivors’ families the anguish”, but it will permit photos of wounded American soldiers or of the coffins of the fallen arriving at Dove, regardless of the anguish of military families.
    **There is a substantive difference between seeing a person jump to their death and seeing a flag-drapped coffin.
    “Editorial judgment” prevails in pushing the successes we are having in Iraq — opening schools, restoring oil production, maintaining order in most of the country — to the back pages of the international section (if such stories appear at all), while swallowing without skepticism as authentic pornographic pictures actually lifted from websites in Hungary and Pennsylvania.
    **Newspapers are profit-making enterprises. Stories about schools on the front-page won’t sell papers.

  • jakob

    Jeff,
    It’s increasingly clear to me that your intent is to inlame people in the way Dave describes above. Otherwise, why would you refer to your enemies as slime and compare them to Hitler, but not use the same terms or make the same comparison regarding Americans who rape, murder, torture people in their own homeland?
    A peacemaker you are not. I suggest changing the name of your blog to Hatemachine.

  • http://www.shanksvillememorial.com furious

    Dave:
    You are correct. We have to live in the world that comes after the last al Quaeda disciple is strangled with the entrails of the last Wahhabi imam; therefore our violence against the Islamofascists had better be discriminate.
    And thanks to GPS, carbon-fiber composites, laser rangefinders, and embedded controllers, it now can be.
    But we also have to be violent (and remorselessly resolute) enough that no one will ever again dare attack American (or European, Australian, East Timorese, Turkish, Iraqi…) civilians on a mass scale. Ever.
    We were that way once before, and now two of the formerly most warlike societies on the planet, Japan and Germany, who in living memory visited appalling misery on their neighbors, are now two of the most pacifist, loath to dispatch troops beyond their borders on even humanitarian missions.
    –furious

  • Kat

    Jakob–you guys just hate the truth doncha’. You want to keep pushing that islam is peace thing at us. Here is a great editorial on this matter–I’m just not sure anymore about this moderate majority stuff. I’m still in shock that only ONE arab state officially condemned the beheading–ONE!! Do the rest condone it? I never heard many western leaders condemn it, either. What are they afraid of? Planes?
    Yet, they all condemned the prison abuse. Why? Is Nick Berg unimportant–just a Jew.
    http://www.canada.com/ottawa/ottawacitizen/news/editorials/story.html?id=7cb244d2-d6b7-465e-8a3b-1fac99e93197

  • egger

    Jeff: You imply that we should see the Berg photos so we can see how bad our enemy is, but we should not show all the photos of prison abuse by Americans because it would “incite more violence in Iraq.” Sounds like a double standard.
    One result of censoring prison photos is that apologists for the prison abusers refer to “pyramids of naked Iraqis” as if that’s the worst abuse that occurred. I’m sure there are photos of abuse by Americans which we haven’t seen that would rival the Berg photos and prove that the enemy doesn’t have a monopoly on barbarism.
    But then, I guess objectivity is not your goal.

  • Kat

    Egger–there will be no photos as cold, barbaric, with a satanic ritual, bleeding a guy and screaming allah akbar as the guy is sacrificed.
    It needs to be made clear such murders are consistent with sacred jihad practices, as well as Islamic attitudes towards all non-Muslim infidels, in particular, Jews, which date back to the 7th century, and the Prophet Muhammad’s own example.
    According to Muhammad

  • Buzz

    Egger:
    I don’t recall Jeff or anyone making the case that no photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib should be shown. They are making the case that the news outlets are falling all over themselves to show prison abuse photos 24/7 while holding back on the details of the gory Berg photos. It is not an argument I made above, but in addition to restricting the “amplitude” of what gets shown in the media, enhancing the frequency of what gets reported also has an effect on bias.
    And nobody can seriously argue that the Abu Ghraib photos are not being rubbed in our faces with almost unprecedented frequency, can they? How about bringing it back down to a level that reflects reality instead of distorts it.

  • mm

    Kat – satanism? really…you’re a nut.

  • Michael

    I remeber reading somewhere (can’t find the link) that there is some doubt as to whether Berg was still alive at the time of the beheading. Someone was noting that there wasn’t any struggle or blood. Does anyone have more info on this possibility?

  • http://www.shanksvillememorial.com furious

    mm:
    yes, yes, and, like I said, always erring on the side of weakening our resolve. Can’t be coincidence, can it?
    But to take your points one at a time…
    **Perhaps that’s becuase the media/public value the dignity/privacy of an American more than of an anonymous Iraqi.
    That explains all the cameras stuck in the faces of Nick Berg’s family as they grieved on their lawn, or the close-ups of wounded or grieving American soldiers.
    Thank you for repeating and reinforcing my point. The former stiffens our resolve, the latter weakens it. Although I assume the loss to the fallens’ families is equally acute.
    **Newspapers are profit-making enterprises. Stories about schools on the front-page won’t sell papers.
    Funny that the Wall St. Journal turns a profit with a mix of good and bad about Iraq on the front page. And, of course, your assertion doesn’t account for newspapers’ revenue share from subscriptions.
    –furious

  • Kat

    Yes, a satanic ritual –For them, the murder was a sacred act, an expression of their piety. Nicholas Berg was butchered in the manner of a sheep on the holy Muslim holiday of Eid. As they pushed him to the floor and cut his neck, they yelled Allahu Akhbar!, “God is Great.” He was an offering……..to the devil we are at war with.

  • http://www.shanksvillememorial.com furious

    oops…
    **There is a substantive difference between seeing a person jump to their death and seeing a flag-drapped coffin.
    Thank you for repeating and reinforcing my point. The former stiffens our resolve, the latter weakens it. Although I assume the loss to the fallens’ families is equally acute.
    sorry for double-posting…furious

  • http://www.shanksvillememorial.com furious

    Kat:
    A psychotic and depraved death cult, to whom all kufir regardless of age, sex, or non-involvement are legitimate targets, who don’t recoil from murdering even their own co-religionists at prayer, and who believe their grisly rituals will earn them eternity in a whorehouse heaven.
    How can there be any doubt, among, say, Senate Democrats or Air America programming directors, as to who the true enemy is?
    –furious

  • http://blogs.rny.com/sbw/ sbw

    Right to know? … Need to know?
    Right to know? … Need to know?
    I seldom, if ever, invoke the bludgeon of a phrase called the “public’s right to know.”
    I seldom, if ever, plaster in-your-face violence across a newspaper.
    But in news stories we make sure that people have sufficient information they can use for their decision-making.

  • Mike

    Michael,
    I saw the video yesterday and no one who had seen the video would dare say that 1) Nick Berg was already dead before the beheading and 2) there was no blood. Berg’s hands were tied behind his back so how he could have struggled with the savage who put his weight onto him before he killed him is beyond me.

  • Kat

    Michael–yes, the democratic underground and fellow swill have all kinds of conspiracy theories going–all culminating in the US having beheaded the guy.
    Quote:
    {Stranger things have happened in war. Why was there no blood (or a remarkably small amout of it) when Berg’s head was chopped off? I mean, there is more blood than that when you gut a fish.
    Those hoods behind him look like linebackers off a US football team, not like Arabs. Body posture, body language just aint right, ya know? Why does the guy on the right have white hands? Why was the guy reading the letter struggling to read Arabic?
    This story stinks. Probably as fake as the Saddam statue toppling incident or Jessica’s rescue.
    Wouldnt surpise me AT ALL if Berg was already dead, one way or the other, way before this video was trotted out – timed to take the heat of the BushCo prison scandal – and of course at a time when the polls show Americans are losing confidence in the Iraq effort. Now, with this, neo-cons the land over are howling for more war violence, death and destruction in Iraq, and using the Berg video as their clarion call. }end og quote

  • Buzz

    Kat:
    A lot of people can be right simultaneously here: though it was not a “satanic” ritual, the cutting off of Berg’s head was a ritual of a kind: It was done in accordance with Islamic law. When killing livestock for food, in order to be Halal, the throat of the animal is slit and the blood drained away. That also explains the apparent lack of blood that some people are latching onto: it’s not that it was missing but rather that it was drained away in a relatively controlled fashion.
    Sorry to be ghoulish, but the press just doesn’t tell us these things or allow us to see for ourselves…

  • Tim Gannon

    Remember the journalistic credo as stated by a radio personality in Cincinnati, “Your right to know supersedes your right to exist”.

  • growler

    I have to take issue with you, Jeff. It was not good to obscure Nick’s face. Go take a look at the ditorial in the DMN. It shows a masked guy with his hand disappearing into a black box. They didn’t fuzz the picture; they cropped the entire head out.
    If they’re going to show the picture, show it all. And don’t lessen the impact.

  • Kat

    Call it what you like–I call it satanic. God made it very clear He did not want human sacrifices. These guys obviously worship a very different ‘god’–a guy with cloven hooves and horns:):):). I have to get out and shovel feet and feet of snow–in the middle of May, no less–but I have been stranded from work for 3 days.:) My blue spruce is bent at a 90 degree angle with the tip pointing straight south. When I open the garage birds rush in–I let them stay–they best not poop on my car.

  • mm

    Kat – what kind of Christian are you, anyway? The kind that hates all other religions? I must have missed that day at Bible school.

  • Kat

    No, I love all other religions and non religions–I hate cults that kill in cold blood. That is not religion–that is barfing sick.

  • http://pjnet.org/weblogs/pjnettoday/archives/000239.html Leonard Witt

    Jimmy Breslin in his Newsday column says it doesn’t matter what newspaper editors and reporters think. The Internet will dictate what people see and what they do not. Click on my name below to get to Breslin’s column.

  • onecent

    I’m sure there are photos of abuse by Americans which we haven’t seen that would rival the Berg photos and prove that the enemy doesn’t have a monopoly on barbarism.
    Pleeeze! Get a grip. The US military is hacking off heads and ripping limbs off prisoners? I take personal offense at your stupid hyperbole that Americans are systemically as barbaric. As crude and shocking was the mistreatment and sexcapades by a few at Abu Ghraib, there is no symmetry to Berg’s or Danny Pearl’s barbaric beheadings by homicidal thugs.

  • Zip

    I’ve noticed a few things about neo-conservatives they have the same fanatical hatred againts Muslims and Arab people as the Arab People and Muslims have againts the Jews. Well I guess you have to fight fire with fire..eh?

  • Kat

    There is something not kosher about this Berg fiasco. His father just spoke on CNN and said Al Queda didn’t know what they were doing–that they killed their best friend. Who, but a terrorist, is a friend of Al Queda? And Berg had caught the FBI’s attention before.
    Speaking to reporters outside his West Chester, Pa., home Thursday, Berg’s father, Michael, said his son was investigated by the FBI more than a year ago over contact he had with a terrorism suspect while he was a student at the University of Oklahoma.
    Berg’s father said his son was dragged into that investigation because he allowed an acquaintance he rode the bus with to use his computer. Weird.

  • onecent

    hey, zip, the neoconservatives haven’t been wearing suicide bomber belts, flying planes into buidings or beheading the innocent.
    islamofascists have been plying the homicidal terrorist trade for decades. responding to it doesn’t require a label other than common sense.
    if your neighbor burns your house down, an arrest and prison sentence is in order. sometimes the cops get shot at serving the warrant and respond in kind. no immorality there, my friend.
    got any other cliches to spout?

  • onecent

    mm, anyone killing in the name of god, i heard loudly “allah akbar” on the berg video, and it has been in many other islamic snuff tapes(remember bin Laden’s 9/11 responsibility tape?), is satanic. maybe their religion is misunderstood by its followers and good or well understood and satanic. take your pick. but, time and events aren’t making islam appear more saintly. and while you adhere to your pc correctness that all religions are equal, the body count keeps rising in the name of allah. got an answer for that?
    it seems to me that kat’s absence at bible school on a certain day pales beside the islamic terrorist’s(and there are so many of them) absences at civics classes.