When the Los Angeles Times chose to run photos of soldiers desecrating the bodies of dead insurgents, they were roundly condemned by the Pentagon, the Department of Defense and many incensed readers. What they don’t understand is that the press doesn’t exist to serve as the military’s advocate. The L.A. Times made the right decision when they chose to tell the truth.
Imagine America is a third-world country being occupied by Afghanistan. The sight of Afghani soldiers patrolling our streets wielding automatic weapons and nightly raids on households have become commonplace. If they told us they were here for our benefit, while committing atrocities against our people and desecrating our dead, who would we trust to tell us the truth? The purpose of the news media is to be an unbiased and unprejudiced conveyer of the truth.
The term “media” is plural for medium, an agency that acts as an intermediary between world events and the people they affect. To ask the media to reject or alter the nature of world events is to ask them to deliver a false reality. It would be no different if a postman altered your mail to prevent you from finding out you’re about to be evicted. The truth hurts.
Opponents of the decision say publishing the photos could put soldiers at risk. The truth is that war puts them at risk. Opponents say that the photos could be used as a recruitment tool by our enemies, putting troops in harm’s way. But the truth is that the Department of Defense and the Pentagon put them in harm’s way.
Some would say that the LA Times publishes graphic material like this to attract readers. This could be true. No one but the people involved can know exactly why the decision was made. What we do know, is that these soldiers took photographs of themselves mocking their dead enemies. That happened. As long as it’s true, other possible ulterior motives notwithstanding, the L.A. Times had the right and responsibility to tell the public what transpired. If news is like a hurricane, then the media is like the wind. It can only deliver the harsh realities of the world, but it isn’t responsible for them.
No organization, be it public or private, should want to inhibit the media’s responsibility to deliver the facts, nor should they try. A free and open media is not only a vital tool in the maintenance of the democratic process, it was integral to its inception. There can be no democracy without a media, and without a free media there can be no free people anywhere.
So the next time people wonder why it’s necessary for the media to put out disturbing images of real world events, they should look no further than what Jesus Christ said. “It’s necessary because it’s the truth.”