The Best Defense

The dying marine: What the hell was the AP thinking?

The Associated Press's decision to publish a photograph of a mortally wounded Marine over the objections of the family and of the Defense Department was wrong. Also, morally indefensible.

Look, I'm a 1st Amendment fundamentalist. I lean in the direction of publishing anything and letting the public decide. But just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean it is the right thing to do.

Bob Goldich, a friend of mine whose son served as a Marine in Iraq, observes that, "the photo was not of LCpl Bernard after he had died -- it was while he was dying. I think this is crucial. The dead feel no pain. But the dying do, and publishing the photo transmitted LCpl Bernard's pain to his family."

The AP stated that despite the objections, it went ahead and ran the photo because it "conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it." I confess that I haven't looked at the photo, and don't want to. But if that was the AP's purpose, what was so urgent that it couldn't wait a few weeks or months, until the family had had a chance to mourn? I mean, these wars aren't going away.

Today I am embarrassed for American journalism. As a former military reporter, I also am angry with the AP. They've committed the sin, but all of us in the media will pay for it. This one will haunt us for years. The Marines especially don't forget. What a long way to come from Iwo Jima -- that iconic photo of the flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi was taken by another AP photographer, Joe Rosenthal. 

I'll end with a plea to the AP: It is never too late to do the right thing and apologize.

The Best Defense

The big problem in Afghanistan

Remember yesterday I mentioned David Wood as a good defense reporter? He has a terrific column today about what is going wrong in Afghanistan. I'll summarize it here, but only if you promise to click on this link and read the whole thing.

Wood begins with a good strong "lede" that manages to combine action and policy:

When a warning crackled over the radio of a suspected ambush ahead, Lt. Col. Rob Campbell swore softly and ordered his three armored trucks to a halt. What happened next illustrates why the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is failing, why commanders here are asking for more manpower -- and why they are pleading for more time.

Then his main character strides into the picture, along with a succinct statement of the problem:

Leaping out with his M-4 carbine, Campbell, a tall cavalry officer with sandy hair and freckles, strode through the empty, sun-baked fields flanking the road while his men fanned out, checking the ground for IEDs, sweeping the fields for snipers. The Afghan police assigned to patrol this stretch of road? Nowhere in sight.

Campbell comes off as a good, thoughtful officer doing well, but conscious that time is running out. Anyway, read the whole thing -- one of the best things I've read on Afghanistan in awhile.

Meanwhile, NATO aircraft hit some hijacked fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan, killing a bunch of people. Some of them were insurgents, some of them children and other civilians trying to get the fuel the Taliban was distributing from the trucks for free. The total is somewhere between 50 and 90, it appears. My question: Does this air strike  pass the Petraeus test, which I saw him apply in Mosul back in 2003-2004: Before taking any action, consider whether it will create more opponents than it stops. Anyway, this makes me wonder if NATO forces got snookered into the attack.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images