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Saturday, September 05, 2009

JULIE JACOBSON Associated Press Writer and Photojournalist Publishes Photo Of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard in Afghanistan As He Lay Dying With Legs Blown Off.


JULIE JACOBSON Associated Press Writer and Photojournalist Publishes Photo Of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard in Afghanistan As He Lay Dying With Legs Blown Off.

The shocking death photo released by AP and taken by staff photographer Julie Jacobson is growing into a scandal and precipitating some heated debate about the people's right to know verses a family's right to privacy. The death photo of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard is part of an essay of photographs intended to show a day in the life of a soldier in Afghanistan.
 A check on Friday found the story had been used on at least 20 newspaper front pages. None used the picture of a mortally wounded Bernard on the front page, although it was used inside newspapers and as Jihad propaganda on dirt bag web sites like the anti-American Muslim Yousef Al-Khattab's revolutionmuslim.com in New York City, Phone Number: 1-718-312-8203, this guys web site needs to be shut down.

Following is the account of AP Photojournalist Julie Jacobson as she laments over to publish, or not, the photo of dying Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, she published it, I will not show it.

"That's when I realized there was a casualty and saw the injured Marine, about 10 yards from where I'd stood, with his legs just hanging on by skin. For the second time in my life, I watched a Marine lose his. He was hit with the RPG, which blew off one of his legs and badly mangled the other. He lost consciousness a few minutes later just before they got him into the "ambulance." I hadn't seen it happen, just heard the explosion. I hit the ground and lay as flat as I could and shot what I could of the scene even though I didn't think I could use those casualty pics based on our media rules of engagement. It was also dusk at that point and very hard to shoot with such low shutter speeds. There was lots of yelling.

The injured Marine kept saying, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." The other guys kept telling him "Bernard, you're doing fine, you're doing fine. You're gonna make it. Stay with me Bernard!" He held Bernard's head in his hands when he seemed to go limp and tried to keep him awake. A couple more ran in with a stretcher.

This whole time amidst gunfire, I lay flat on my stomach trying to brace my camera steady, but not doing very well at a 1/2 second. It was strange to be worrying about my shutter speed with all the bullets flying overhead. At the same time I kept trying to gauge whether or not to drop the camera and help the Marines with the injured man. (It appears to have been more important to photograph the dying Marine)

 The last few slow days have allowed me to reflect some on the events of Friday, the 14th. I did not ever formally meet Bernard. There are some 50 men in a platoon, and every day we were going out with different squads, so I have not really gotten to know the guys too well. ...

I shot images that day well aware that those images could very possibly never see the light of day. In fact I was sure of it. But I still found myself recording them. To ignore a moment like that simply because of a phrase in section 8, paragraph 1 of some 10-page form would have been wrong. I was recording his impending death, just as I had recorded his life moments before walking the point in the bazaar. Death is a part of life and most certainly a part of war. Isn't that why we're here? To document for now and for history the events of this war? We'd shot everything else thus far and even after, from feature images of a Marine talking on a SAT phone to his girlfriend, all the way to happy meetings between Marines and civilians. So shooting the image was not a question.
 

To publish or not is the question. The image is not the most technically sound, but his face is visible as are his wounds. Many factors come into play. There's the form we signed agreeing to how and what we would cover while embedded. It says we can photograph casualties from a respectable distance and in such a way that the person is not identifiable. Then you think about the relatives and friends of Bernard. Would you, as a parent, want that image posted for all the world to see? Or even would you want to see how your son died? You'd probably want to remember him another way. Although, it was interesting to watch the Marines from his squad flip through the images from that day on my computer (they asked to see them). They did stop when they came to that moment. But none of them complained or grew angry about it. They understood that it was what it was. They understand, despite that he was their friend, it was the reality of things.



Then there's the journalism side of things, which is what I am and why I'm here. We are allowed to report the name of the casualty as soon as next of kin has been notified. It is necessary and good to recognize those who die in times of war. But to me, a name on a piece of paper barely touches personalizing casualties. An image brings it home so much closer. An image personalizes that death and makes people see what it really means to have young men die in combat. It may be shocking to see, and while I'm not trying to force anything down anyone's throat, I think it is necessary for people to see the good, the bad and the ugly in order to reflect upon ourselves as human beings. It is necessary to be bothered from time to time. It is too easy to sit at Starbuck's far away across the sea and read about the casualty and then move on without much of another thought about it. It's not as easy to see an image of that casualty and NOT think about it.



I never expect to change the world or stop war with one picture, but only hope that I make some people THINK beyond their comfort zones and hope that a few of them will be moved into some kind of action, be it joining a protest, or sending that care package they've put off for weeks, or writing that letter they keep meaning to write, or donating money to some worthy NGO, or just remembering to say I love you to someone at home. Something. I believe that is why I decided to send the photo in to the NY desk despite what the media rules of engagement said, to start some conversation about it and hope that it will move out there. It bothered me too much not to have at least some discussion about it. And with great respect and understanding to all the opposing arguments to publication, I feel that as journalists it is our social responsibility to record AND publish such images. We have no restrictions to shoot or publish casualties from opposition forces, or even civilian casualties. Are those people less human than American or other NATO soldiers? So, debate amongst yourselves or maybe just to yourself."