AP right, wrong on photo of dying Marine?

The Associated Press released a photo on Friday of Marine Lance Cpl Joshua M. Bernard, 21, as he lay dying on the ground with severe leg injuries from being struck by a grenade in an ambush on Aug. 14 in Afghanistan.

Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard
Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard

The AP distributed the photo, taken by AP Photographer Julie Jacobson, against the wishes of the Marine’s family as well as the expressed disappointment of U. S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The photo shows the soldier on the ground, severely wounded and bleeding while two other soldiers tend to him. The photo was taken with a long lens and is somewhat blurry.

John Daniszewski, AP senior managing editor, said he “respected Gates’ view but that sometimes the government and press have different perspectives. “We though that the image told a story of sacrifice, it told a story of bravery, … and that it told a story people needed to see and be aware of.”

Here’s a link to the photo if you’re interested in seeing it: AP Photo of Marine Lance Cpl Joshua M. Bernard

What’s the story here?

When I’ve worked as a news editor for newspapers and culled through photos taken by AP Photo journalists all over the world, the editorial policy has always been not to show someone dying or about to die even in a war zone.

There’s another oddity to this situation – that the AP held onto to the photo for three weeks before releasing it with a backgrounder admitting that they had long deliberations within their agency.

Why the policy change?

And I also wonder and didn’t see it addressed anywhere – why the AP would change its policy at this time after not releasing such photos since 2001? I disagree with the policy and think the decision of whether to publish such photos should be left up to the publishers and editors who use AP services. I believe that U.S. citizens have a right to see the grisly parts of war such as the caskets being loaded onto the cargo planes to bring them back to the States. That said I don’t understand the change in policy.

As of Friday it’s been reported that about 20 newspapers have used the photograph of Bernard on their front pages.

How do you feel about the issue. If you were editor of a newspaper would you have chosen to print the photo? I’d love to hear your comments and feedback!