The Associated Press waited three weeks before releasing a photograph by Julie Jacobsonof a mortally wounded U.S. Marine in Afghanistan.
Typically, AP photographs are released the same day they are shot, often within hours. But photos of killed service members are sensitive. The AP acknowledged “long deliberations” within the news agency over the picture. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had urged the AP not to release it.
A single photograph from Jacobson’s series shows Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, 21, on August 14 after he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade during a firefight with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. His suffered severe injuries to his legs and he later died in a field hospital, the AP reported.
The picture, shot from a distance, is blurry and the soldiers are almost impossible to identify. The image is posted on the Web site of the St. Petersburg Times, one of the few news outlets to publish it. The AP also published a package of stories, including a multimedia slide show of photos narrated by Jacobson, as well as Jacobson’s journal.
In a statement about the picture, the AP said: “The photographer, crouching under fire, took the picture from a distance with a long lens and did not interfere with Marines tending to Bernard…The decision to release the photo of the mortally wounded Bernard followed long deliberations within AP about whether to do so. An AP reporter also met with Bernard’s parents, so they could see the images in advance of their release.”
Bernard’s father opposed the release of the picture, the AP reported.
The AP provided the package of material to newspaper editors a day in advance to give them time to decide how to use it. The material was under embargo until 12:01 a.m. September 4.
Before the photo was published, secretary Gates asked AP CEO Thomas Curley to reconsider releasing the photo. “I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family,” Gates wrote in a letter to Curley. “Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling.”
Most American newspapers did not publish the picture, and few if any ran it on the front page.
Among newspapers that ran the AP’s package of stories about Bernard’s death, most chose photos other than the one of the wounded Marine. The Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, The New York Times and The Washington Post published an AP story but not the graphic photo.
In Maine, Bernard’s home state, at least five newspapers published a photo or two from the AP package on their front pages, based on the pages available through theNewseum Web site. But none of the Maine papers appear to have used the picture of him wounded. Instead, four Maine papers selected a photo of the Marine aiming his weapon some time before he was injured.
The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times ran the photo on its Web site with an AP story about the images, while several newspapers including The Commercial Appeal in Memphis provided an online photo gallery of all of Jacobson’s images from the coverage. The Intelligencer in Wheeling, W.Va., ran the image with an editorial explaining why it chose to publish the image. “We believe we owe it to our readers to report the full truth about the war, even if that means publishing unpleasant photographs such as the one of Lance Cpl. Bernard,” the editorial said.
Photographs of mortally wounded U.S. service members are rare.