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.