Government, War, News, and Photography

5 12 2010

War and photography is a very controversial mix. Government does not want graphic photography to be printed publicly because they don’t want to permanently scar the public (war photography can really haunt a person for the rest of their life) but government also doesn’t want the public to suddenly change and oppose war after seeing the real brutality and hell that it actually is. This seems wrong to me. Government doesn’t want people to see the reality of war because they are nervous that, after seeing the truth, they will oppose it. Basically they want to withhold part of the truth, maybe the most important part, so people are more likely to make the decision that they want: support for the war. “Governments keep war hidden because it is hideous. To allow citizens to see its reality—the shattered bodies, the wounded children, the incomprehensible mayhem—is to risk eroding popular support for it.”
But it is not just government’s fault for prohibiting certain photographs of war. If newspapers or magazines were given the opportunity to publish photographs of dead soldiers, would they? Maybe, maybe not. Editors worry that if they put too graphic photographs in their magazines or newspaper they could get accused for having an “antiwar” bias. They also worry that the photos could upset readers and thus “scare off advertisers.” This is also seemingly corrupt to me. I thought the news has one “golden rule”: to provide information; not to make the public happy with the news they got. Their job isn’t to appease the public and worry about their feelings getting hurt, it is to provide the honest truth. If newspapers are “sanitizing” their news so that they don’t upset readers, in my opinion, they are not doing their job.
Another obstacle that most war photojournalists must overcome is gaining the respect of the soldiers. soldiers in combat don’t want some random guy taking a picture of their friend dying. Even if respect is gained, sometimes they still don’t want this happening. One photographer recalled his struggles as a war photographer: “I’ve had unit commanders tell me flat out that if anybody gets wounded on patrol, you can’t take any pictures of them. Nearly every time I’ve landed at [a medevac] scene, guys have yelled at me, ‘Get the f—- away from me. Don’t take my friend’s picture. Get back on the helicopter.’ Part of me understands that. I am a stranger to them. And they are very emotional. Their friend has been badly hurt or wounded, and they’ve probably all just been shot at 15 minutes before. I totally understand that, although it is a violation of embed rules.”
So the question is: should war photographers be worried about the mental scars their photos can inflict on the public? Should editors prioritize getting enough advertisers over providing the truthful information? Should government withhold the truth so that people will be more likely to support war?
In my opinion if people get so “scared” and “upset” about the realities of war captured by a photography, they should do something about it rather than weep and moan. If editors prioritize money over the truth, they shouldn’t call themselves objective journalism. And if government is withholding the deserved truth from the public, the public should call for reform.
The truth can be hidden, but no matter how hard society tries, it will always exist.

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One response

5 12 2010
Mister Fischer

This topic is very appropriate for the book we’re reading right now because the Vietnam war was really the first war where combat pictures were broadcast directly into Americans’ living rooms. Many argue that this shaped the reaction to the war: when Americans saw the body bags and the massive loss of life, it was hard for them to believe the leaders’ claims that the war was going well. Today, war coverage is much more limited in some respects, though I do remembering the footage from embedded reporters during the Iraq war–very terrifying.

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