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Nov 09, 2005

Beyond Dover: MSM's First Published U.S. War Fatality?

(click image for larger version)

In the course of commenting yesterday on the use of military photos to accompany U.S. press accounts of the Iraq war (Pentagon Pictures, Tall Afar Tales - link), I mentioned how the NYT was one of the few news entities with photographers in Husayba covering the large scale U.S. offensive near the Syrian border.

What I seemed to skip over at the time, however -- until alerted by an astute BAG reader -- was the content of Monday's NYT image, which depicted a Marine killed in an ambush.  I can't be certain, but I'm assuming that this photo -- thirty-two months and 2,000+ American deaths into the campaign -- is possibly the first published image of a U.S. military fatality to appear in the MSM.

If this is true, what's the significance?  As the relationship between the press and the White House has transformed from a submissive to a more autonomous one, does this picture signal an even more defiant tone on the part of the media?

(Special thanks to John Harris)

(image: Johan Spanner/Polaris for The New York Times. November 7, 2005. Husayba, Iraq. The New York Times, p. A8)


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There were some pretty grim and bloody video sequences in "Farenheit 9/11", which probably made as big an impact on the culture as a photo in the NYT. I know that seeing those sequences helped me turn a corner in my understanding of this war - partly because I hadn't seen anything like it up until that point.

I didn't watch TV much as a kid, but I remember seeing the body of a Viet Cong on TV one night, in black, lying in a pool of his own blood, in grainy news footage. All these years later, I know that this image - not, for me, just another night of war footage, but new and disturbing - helped me understand what I needed to do as a citizen of a democracy.

That it was taken and shown from an Ipaq-SYRIAN BORDER TOWN, gives me troubling and serious suspicions about potential 'prepping of the political battlefield'. Buna Beach and this photo may be complimentary in some aspects but I would be praying if I was a religious person that this is not intentionally advancing the erroneous notion that its time to move on Syria. If I were a gung-ho American patriot seeing this (even covered over death which is a mild version of Buna Beach) might start demanding what Rumsfeld and his generals are going to do especially since this US combatant was AMBUSHED. That this type of battle incident is a daily occurrence in Iraq this depiction however will be given, perceived or felt of at a stronger gut level. If they had shown a Buna Beach facsimile I would be holding my breath for a "we interrupt this program to bring you an important announcement". Entering right the Commander In Chief strides determinedly to the podium. After the predicable opening comments, then begins: 'that all options are being consider and as you all know they have always been on the table...

Wow, good call: "does this image represent an even more defiant tone on the part of the media?" And the source is the NYTimes!

Perhaps it also reflect a growing defiance on the part of the US military. I assume a relationship grows up between an embedded photographer and the soldiers with whom he is embedded. That human relationship will influence what the photographer "sees." If the soldiers didn't want their casualties photographed, I imagine an embedded photographer sould not take the pics.

Maybe the NYT is just trying to show they are not totally in the pocket of the WH.

The death of a marine isn't screaming at our eyes from this photo. One could scan the newspaper page and not see this corpse, the two lifeless hands and a covered bundle. You have to stop and study to decode the image. Black & white and sharp shadow barely uncamouflage the tableau.

The fact of his death has already registered on those around him, there's no sense of urgency.

I'm struck by the volume and variety of gear these guys carry. This shows purpose, design, preparation for their mission.

The stretcher isn't improvised.

Reverse engineer the actions captured here. What is the problem for which this scene ( and all the obvious preparation, planning, and training ) is the solution?

I think the New York Times hasn't been printing these pictures out of fear. With the public (and sales) behind them now, they're following the trend. It's about time. I hope they get braver. This wasn't exactly on the front page.

Good blog, and timely. After all, we don't live in a literary culture any more, for better or for worse (usually worse, because ever fewer people are able to write well, but I digress).

Images of death do hit on a deeper "gut level".

I've been mad about the administrations 'war lust' for a long time - seeing every "bad" turn as a blow to Bush, every casualty as a cross he'll have to bear, every scandal, lie, and abu graib photo as the straw that will break their back...

Now I'm just settling into a feeling of sadness over it all.

They've really f*@&ed the United States over - not to mention the stability of the whole planet.

I want to see the worst of the worst printed on the front page everyday -- but at the same time, I need a break from it. Don't we all? When does it end?

There is something interesting in the transition from the government protecting US citizens from thinking that american soldiers are dying, to this. In the beginning, we heard about the first soldier dying. They were made out to be helicopter accidents, that sort of thing. Then the numbers began to skyrockket, but they stayed numbers. No images were shown. Then the famous flag-covered caskets, with the photographer getting in trouble, and the government scowling. The idea of american dead has been covered in layers, which masks the understanding of Iraqi dead as well. We see the numbers of the civilians, but it's pretty hard to get any number estimates of the insurgent death count. Those are people too, yet they are wrapped in layer upon layer of distortion.

And now we have this. A black and white photograph of a dead american marine. It unravels a few of those layers.

It seems like the image is setting a stage. The white house has been operating on the idea that they will attempt to make the war look like a purified war with no defeats. This is the second stage, the appeal to emotion. Who knows what the reaction will be, but it may be trying to get people more reactive, volatile, and supportive of exacting vengence. It could also backfire when the masses have to look at dead men/women (their OWN dead men/women) in the eyes.

Wonder when that'll be in print.

RELATED NEWSFLASH: Judith Miller retired from The New York Times today.

How interesting.

This is about setting the stage for a possible invasion of Syria. Bush admin has cut diplomatic ties to Syria this week.
See stratfor for more info on Syria's desire to cooperate with US on some security issues.

It is just amazing to me that this would be the first picture of a killed soldier in the MSM. These people should really be tarred and feathered and run out of town for their negligent, propaganda reporting.

The NYT still has 2,055 (+/-) miles to go before it can be considered remotely defiant. Same for the rest of the MSM, especially print editions. The blogosphere is where the defiance is — on the left as well as on the right. Like the French govt., the American MSM is stunningly s-l-o-w to catch up. I'm not sure they ever will anymore.

I think we can definitely mark our calendars that in Nov 2005 we watched the launch site for the invasion of Syria get a spring cleaning. Now when do those 95,000 troops get deployed to "Iraq"? If we have that date, we can probably estimate when the bombing will begin. (I thought it was going to be nuclear this time, though....)

Too little, too late, I say. Compare the casualties that we saw on TV during the Vietnam War. That was when journalists still had some balls. It's nothing compared to the stuff on which the Times hasn't touched these past five years or so.

Jurassic Pork is exactly right. When NBC Nightly News starts carrying these pics (let alone footage clips of the Italian Fallujah/WP documentary) then we'll know we have an independent media again.

RTBAG said:

The NYT still has 2,055 (+/-) miles to go before it can be considered remotely defiant. Same for the rest of the MSM, especially print editions...the American MSM is stunningly s-l-o-w to catch up. I'm not sure they ever will anymore.

No argument there: the handwriting is on the wall, um, screen. Newspaper readership has been dropping steadily, and it's an old problem that publishers have not yet solved.

Web blogs and news are upstart challengers, but most people still get their news from other sources, mainly print media and television.

The various news sources may find a workable compromise someday. In the movie Minority Report, John Anderton gets on the subway just as Precrime issues a report about his escape. The breaking news story appears within minutes—in digital ink—on a passenger's interactive newspaper. (The futuristic paper was USA Today, held by Vanilla Sky director Cameron Crowe in a cameo.)

Border Town? Which side of the border was the Marine on when he was "ambushed."

How does one define "ambush"? Weren't the soldiers attacking the town?

To add to fotonique's newspaper industry commentary, this was reported on (11/8): "Most newspaper stocks were down following the latest release Monday of circulation data from the Audit Bureau of Circulation [which] said average weekday circulation at U.S. newspapers fell 2.6% for the six-month period ended Sept. 30."

2.6% is a meaningless statistic to cite without any further context; however, the piece went on to fault The National Do Not Call Registry (Excuse me?!) because it "makes it more difficult for newspapers to obtain new subscribers."

I don't think The National Do Not Call Registry is the newspaper industry's problem, but I do think flagrantly flawed, biased, and inaccurate reporting, combined with shaky ethics and total inertia might be.

When we kill them its labelled a.. 'fire fight' or a ..'fierce engagement'.. 'sniper fire'.. are but a few phases. Where we engage .. 'the bad guys'.. is irrelevant.
Calling in .. 'air support'.. to.. 'flush them out'.. often means virtually flattening whole buildings .. 'where we may inadvertently'.. or .. 'unknowingly cause some collateral damage'.. which .. 'is under investigation'..when civilian sources talk of .. 'whole families being wiped out'.. but .. 'compensation will be forth coming as the facts warrant and are confirmed'..
When they kill us its called ..'ambushed'..'booby trapped'.. and related words which infer cheating, deviousness, cowardly behaviour that..'shows a total lack of respect for human life'..
The MSM does not carry the soldiers terminology but from Vietnam we had..'gooks' etc in Iraq its.. 'ragheads' etc. This labelling helps the killing process by dehumanizing the enemy. The recent Italian information being reported about chemical substances used in Fallujah, now acknowledged by a high level UK official was called .. 'Willey Pete'.. by the grunts. Officially its an updated version of napalm called Mark 77, which was dropped from the air and has the ability to burn skin to the bone without affecting the victims clothing.. One burst I understand is effective for over a hundred metres (yards) It was official reported that this phosphorus was used to light up the sky to assist in identifying targets, but this plausible denial rational has been invalidated from on site sources... 'Willey Pete'.. sound a bit like Wily Coyote doesn't it. The blacked corpses are far removed from the world of Walt Disney however. So another slang word disguises reality. But as Sun Tsu remarked 'Deception is the first principle of war', after 2000 years this adage still rings true. Soldiers protect themselves from the consequences of their actions in the best way they know how...until PTSD catches up...

"Syria-Iraq border town" labelled clearly now that there seems to be the effort beginning to psychologically prepare united states citizens for a U.S.-Syria war. that's what I took from the photo.

I was also reminded about how different the coverage of Vietnam was. I was young, but I remember seeing the evening news, with graphc film and casualty counts, every day as we ate dinner.

jtfromBC, you're so right about the terminology. One of my favorites is when they talk about how "revenge-oriented" Iraqi society is. Never mind that many of the people who joined the military did it to get back at the perpretrators of 9/11, and the government tried to use that connection to get and maintain support for the war. As soon as the troops started pouring into this region, they set up camps called "Camp New York" and "Camp Virginia" and "Camp Pennsylvania". At least when the Iraqis want revenge for the killing of a family member, they take it out on the people who actually did it!

The BAG suggests:

...that this possibly the first published image of a U.S. military fatality to appear in the MSM.

Apparently it isn't.

On April 15, 2004, TIME magazine published this photo of a dead American being carried away (in a body bag) by a another Marine. It's the seventh image in TIME's photo essay Streets of Fire, about counter-insurgency operations in Ramadi. The caption reads:

A Marine carries the body of a fellow American killed during a firefight with Sunni militants last Tuesday; an Iraqi lies dead across the road. Militants ambushed several patrols, killing 11 Marines and a Navy corpsman.

The essay's leading page states that the essay is "From the April 19, 2004 issue of Time Magazine; posted Sunday, April 11, 2004." (Noting the photo's caption, the Marine died on Tuesday, April 6, 2004.)

The photographer was David Swanson of The Philadelphia Inquirer, which also published the same photo on April 9, 2004 [if registration is required, try BugMeNot.] It's the ninth image in their popup photo gallery Photos from Tuesday and Wednesday (April 6-7, 2004).

Swanson, who was slightly wounded during the April 6th firefight, was interviewed on CNN, April 20, 2004 by Soledad O'Brien:

O'BRIEN: Tell me about some of the photos that you think are your best work, the most dramatic photos of the men in this company?

SWANSON: Tuesday's firefight had ended, and everyone was securing the area. And just around the corner, this young Marine came carrying a body bag in this photo. I knew exactly what it was. And he walked past a dead enemy, a dead Iraqi on the ground. The sun was going down, and he just tenderly placed the body bag in the back of the Humvee that was shot up.

The one that gets me is the windshield with 50 or so bullet holes in it. A Marine went in to try to move the Humvee, and he looks quite scared behind the windshield. And unfortunately he died three days later at the same location from an IED. So, that just stays with me.

O'BRIEN: How did you find things changing from the first time you started working with these men to when you left Echo Company?

SWANSON: They all knew my name when I left. They all shook my hand, and we shared one the worst things a human can share, staring at death.

O'BRIEN: How do the soldiers who are still there, how do they seem to be doing?

SWANSON: Well, they lost friends. They lost brothers. It would be a cliche to say band of brothers, but, you know, they eat, sleep, work and relax with each other. And I'm sure they know each other better than family members. The eighth Marine that survived the assault on the Humvee went back to an empty room where seven bunks weren't filled that night.

O'BRIEN: I know you have said you realize just how young these Marines are. I mean, you're not old yourself, but you are older than they are by a decade, in a lot of cases. What kind of things did you take from that, meeting all these very young men?

SWANSON: The answer they would give why they joined is if not me, who? And they are all proud young men doing what they believe is correct, and they kept me safe for two weeks.

Judging from a Knight-Ridder press release at the time, the photo was probably published in other major newspapers. KR's Flash presentation Ambush in Ramadi, April 2004: Echo Company can be seen at their Washington Bureau web site.

No matter how many other first-run images there may be like this, it's too many.

"No matter how many other first-run images there may be like this, it's too many."
fotoninque: would would care to expand on this statement?

JTFBC said: "Would you care to expand on this statement?"

I hope not.

650,954 + 2,058 +      ?     

fotonique said,

"I hope not."

A very unique way to make a point. After a lengthy period of time pondering your equation I'm still somewhat puzzled and in a quandary.

Is your hope that images of dead soldiers not be shown on MSM related to any of my following speculations;

a, you get emotionally upset
b, have a desire to protect others from being upset
c, showing them is unpatriotic
d, could potentially jeopardize military goals.
e, adversely affect the moral of soldiers
e, might undermine political purpose or war rhetoric
f, there is insignificant public interest
g, that death visualized through words is more powerful in conveying a message about 'the fallen'
h, that how you arrive at your opinions in none of my buisness

I understand part of your answer as my Father is one of those in the underlined ? position of the equation.

It can't be entirely lost that his arms out like he's on a cross.

jt from BC, the one label I've seen used by U.S. military personnel in Iraq is "hajjis". They've taken a term of respect and turned it into an insult. ("Hajji" literally means someone who's performed hajj, but it's also sometimes used generally as a sign of respect, especially when you don't know the person's name.)

I assume "sand nigger" is heard a lot, too.

ummabdulla, thanks I was unaware "Hajji" was used derogatorily, "sand niggers" yes, I wonder how Black soldiers respond to the second expression?

I see it as the NYT now feels they will not hurt their sales by these pictures. We have had the pictures in our mind since this crazy business started. Dead of with no legs thousands have been in the same place.

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