The NYT's selective squeamishness

At an upmarket newspaper like the Time York Times, no self-respecting editor would ever consider publishing grisly close-up photos showing victims of horrific car wrecks and violent crimes. Yet that's exactly what it ought to being doing -- at least if you follow the logic put forth by Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt in his Sunday column, "The Painful Images of War."    It touches upon the case of former embedded photojournalist Zoriah Miller, the subject of a recent American Thinker article, "The Case of Expelled Embed."  In his column, Hoyt reflectively notes,

TWO hundred twenty-one American soldiers and Marines have been killed in Iraq this year, but until eight days ago, The Times had not published a photo of one of their bodies.

The picture The Times did publish on July 26, of a room full of death after a suicide bombing in June, with a marine in the foreground, his face covered and his uniform riddled with tiny shrapnel holes, accompanied a front-page article about how few such images there are.

The photos to which Hoyt refers were originally published by Miller in his blog, which is full of anti-war and anti-Western rhetoric, as the American Thinker noted - but that Hoyt failed to mention. His column had other problems, too, and that was curious.

Hoyt has, in the past, proven himself to be intellectually honest and insightful when taking the Times to task for some of its notable journalistic misdeeds and foolishness. But, curiously, he seems unable to make up his mind on whether the Times acted prudently when publishing Miller's grisly up-close photos of dead U.S. Marines in a story last month, "4,000 U.S. Deaths, and Just a Handful of Public Images."

What do do when you can't make up your mind? Hoyt left the intellectual lifting to Executive Editor Bill Keller, whom he quotes as saying:

"Death and carnage are not the whole story of war -- there is also heroism and frustration, success and setback, camaraderie and, on occasion, atrocity -- but death and carnage are part of the story, and to launder them out of our account of the war would be a disservice.''

Before arriving at this conclusion, Hoyt cited some examples of some controversial Iraq battlefield photos that are, indeed, tough calls in respect to whether they should have been published or not. But his apparent reluctance to criticize the Times for publishing Miller's photos -- photos that had only been published only in the photojournalist's blog -- underscores that the Times has an obvious double standard, one that Hoyt is unable to grasp or admit.

One one hand, the Times would never publish grisly up-close photos of traffic accidents and crime scenes -- even though both claim tens of thousands of victims annually. Presumably, the Times withholds such images because, quite simply, it's a matter of good taste not to publish them. Not to mention a matter of respect for the feelings of the victims' families. And yet in an obvious double standard, both Hoyt and Killer weigh in with Zoriah Miller in respect to publishing grisly photos of dead U.S. soldiers -- all to supposedly illustrate all the aspects of the Iraq war that (it's hardly coincidental) the Times just happens to oppose.

The journalistic inconsistency of this argument reminds me of how the Times covered the slayings of two mobsters in Manhattan. In 1985, gunman for mobster John Gotti murdered the head of the Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano, and a fellow mobster. They two were gunned down outside Sparks Steak House as they were going in for dinner.

At the time, I was a journalist in southwestern Connecticut, and I remember commenting with fellow journalists about the giddy coverage of the slayings in the New York papers. One of the tabloids (the Daily News or New York Post) had a banner headline: "RUBOUT!" And the other had a variation of that: "BIG RUBOUT!" Both had photos of the dead mobsters lying on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. They weren't, as I recall, quite as graphic as this, but you get the idea.

The Times, on the other hand, had something similar to this -- a subdued photo of one of the mobsters, draped in a sheet, being wheeled into an ambulance.

Did the Times photographer arrive late at the scene? It's hardly likely. The Times editors picked the photo they did out of a matter of good taste. Publishing grisly photos of dead mobsters is just not the kind of thing Ivy League editors (the types who often tend to work at the Times) would do -- and it's not the kind of thing sophisticated Times readers wanted to see over their breakfast, either. Yet when it comes to dead soldiers in Iraq, the Times has a different standard: Publishing such photos is the right thing to do.

While weighing in with Zoriah Miller, Hoyt quotes Gail Buckland, an author and professor of photo history at Cooper Union in New York, to support his points. According to Hoyt, Buckland

...tells students that because of the lack of a comprehensive photographic record of the war in Iraq, they are ''more impoverished today than Americans were in the 19th century,'' when battlefield photographs by Timothy O'Sullivan and others documented the Civil War. ''The greatest dishonor you can do is to forget,'' she told me. ''Photographs are monuments.''

Yet that's not quite correct. Mathew Brady's  great Civil War photos were not reproduced during the war in American's newspapers, days after a battle. He displayed them in his studio.

Hoyt, in his column, overlooks certain aspects of Zoriah Miller's expulsion, as well. He failed to note that Marine Gen. John F. Kelly had asked the freelance photojournalist to remove the photos from his blog -- and that Miller had refused. And nor did Hoyt note that Gen. Kelly was outraged over Miller's detailed written account of the aftermath of a suicide bombing. That account, he stated, had provided the enemy with a valuable after-action report; the bombing was blamed on Al-Qaida.

That the Times shows more respect for two dead mobsters than it does for dead Marines says much about the paper's agenda-driven worldview.

David Paulin blogs at The Big Carnival.