Monday, April 05, 2004

Did we do the right thing?

Freelance writer Jim Lewis argues, in Slate, against using the grisly Fallujah photos. And he's not just an armchair editor; he's been there.

Lewis was in the Congo for a GQ assigment when he heard of a village massacre. At the scene he jotted down a few notes and took many photos, photos that trouble him today. They were never published, and he has come to see why.

He makes the easy comparison to the Fallujah photos.
In general, the argument in favor of publishing raw and grisly photographs of war—and as I say, I once endorsed it myself—is that they're necessary to bring home to people what's at stake, the real and ferocious damage that combat does to cultures and to human bodies. Photographs, according to this position, are more immediate and convincing than words. But what, really, did these pictures show? That the people of Fallujah don't want Americans occupying their city? We knew that. That Iraqis are capable of appalling savagery? We knew that, too. And besides, so are the members of any nation, given the right circumstances.
So why run the photos? He says you shouldn't.

That hasn't always been his position, he admits. Before he went to the Congo, he was involved in this discussion on photography and morality, in which he argued that it was newspapers' duty to publish such photos.
If anything, I think there's been a colossal failure of nerve on the part of the American press, in its patronizing attempt to spare the delicate sensibilities of readers by not showing exactly what the consequences are of mayhem around the world and American foreign policy. To put it bluntly: How are we supposed to vote if we don't see the bodies our voting affects? Isn't that part of journalism's job?
I'm glad to see coherent, informed arguments for and against the publishing of the photos. It's interesting that they would come from the same person.

Ultimately, I still think the decision to publish was the right one. Lewis seems to argue that there is never a compelling reason to publish such gruesome images because the lack the history, context and culture of the written word.

But we can all think of photographs that brought reality home in a way no word could.

>Front Page Horror [Slate]
>Regarding the pain of others [Slate]


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