October 1, 2009  

Photo folly

TO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS for its ham-fisted handling of a picture of a dying Marine in Afghanistan. Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard was mortally injured in an ambush Aug. 14. AP waited almost three weeks before releasing the image with some fanfare to news outlets Sept. 3, against the wishes of Bernard’s family and despite a personal plea from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Many condemned AP for adding to the anguish of a grieving family, but where AP really mishandled this situation was in packaging the photo with others from that day and a blog-style essay by the photographer. Some war photos, regardless of their graphic content, are extremely newsworthy and important. But AP abdicated its news angle by sitting on the image for three weeks. By effectively pre-censoring the image and editing it into an essay that was more about the photographer than the sacrificed, AP created a different event that was neither news nor historical record, but which looked suspiciously like a Pulitzer-chaser.