‘NYT’ Explores New Restraints on Images from Iraq

By: Greg Mitchell

Three weeks ago, E&P probed the case a freelance photographer who had been “disembedded” from U.S. forces in Iraq after he published on his Web site graphic photos that the military charged broke “embed” rules. The photographer, Zoriah Miller, contested this, but soon he had returned to the U.S.

Now The New York Times, in its Saturday edition, has used that case as a jumping-off point to explore the whole issue of the growing restrictions on images from Iraq, or as reporters Michael Kamber and Tim Arango put it in their lead, “what some journalists say is a growing effort by the American military to control graphic images from the war.”

In a slideshow on its Web site, www.nytimes.com, the paper presents one of the disputed Miller photos, several other images from other photographers that were restricted, and then some pictures from previous wars that were allowed to go through.

The story online is titled: “4,000 U.S. Combat Images, and Just a Handful of Images.”

E&P has raised questions about this issue from almost the beginning of the war in 2003, but few others in the media have pushed this issue forward.

The Times has now done its own search: “If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists ? too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts ? the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme: after five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths, searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.”

Separate controversy has surrounded the issue of showing flag-draped coffins returning from war.

The Times summarizes it this way: “While the Bush administration faced criticism for overt political manipulation in not permitting photos of flag-draped coffins, the issue is more emotional on the battlefield: Local military commanders worry about security in publishing images of the American dead as well as an affront to the dignity of fallen comrades. Most newspapers refuse to publish such pictures as a matter of policy.

“But opponents of the war, civil liberties advocates and journalists argue that the public portrayal of the war is being sanitized and that Americans who choose to do so have the right to see ? in whatever medium ? the human cost of a war that polls consistently show is unpopular with Americans. Journalists say it is now harder, or harder than in the earlier years, to accompany troops in Iraq on combat missions. Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. And while publishing photos of American dead is not barred under the ’embed’ rules in which journalists travel with military units, the Miller case underscores what is apparently one reality of the Iraq war: that doing so, even under the rules, results in expulsion from covering the war …

“News organizations say that such restrictions are one factor in declining coverage of the war, along with the danger, the high cost to financially ailing media outlets and diminished interest among Americans in following the war. By a recent count, only half a dozen Western photographers were covering a war in which 150,000 American troops are engaged.”

Robert H. Reid, the Baghdad bureau chief for The Associated Press, tells the paper, ?I don?t think the uniformed military has really bought into the whole embed program,? following the actual invasion when “it got a lot of, ?Whoopee, we?re kicking their butts?-type of TV coverage.”

The full story and slide show are at www.nytimes.com.
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Greg Mitchell’s new book has several chapters on this subject. It is, “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.”

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