Bleed American: The temperature at which photos burn

By Jennifer Kursman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 29, 2004

Here in Tucson, it's sunny and the mercury's rising. It's so nice out that you decide to grab a cup of overpriced coffee and dine al fresco. Taking a sip, you flip open the newspaper and -

Ick! What's that ugly photo of a bloody, mutilated U.S. soldier doing on the front page? You spit out a mouthful of coffee in disgust. Why was this horrifying picture printed? Clutching your throat, you quickly crumple up the newspaper. You didn't want to be reminded that halfway around the globe, American soldiers are experiencing a different kind of heat - the hell of war. How dare they publish such a poignant photo! Now your appetite is ruined!

It was much more comfortable to stay in a little bubble. Without that painful reminder, it was easier to pretend that a war's not going on. Let's tune into CNN to find out what's really happening. Oh, America is winning. No worries. Kick that newspaper into the recycling bin. It was way too difficult to look at those images; they almost caused you to face the reality of death.

For a long time, the Bush administration sought to clamp down on the release of Iraqi war photographs, particularly those of the coffins of fallen American soldiers.

Last week, Tami Silicio and her husband, David Landry, were fired from the Pentagon contractor company Maytag Aircraft for taking photos of coffins being carried onto transport planes. The Department of Defense claimed that The Seattle Times' publication of these photos constituted a violation of a Pentagon policy issued in March 2003: that "there will be no ... media coverage of deceased personnel returning to or departing from" its stations.

OK, just turn on the blinders and listen to the Bush administration's press releases. That's much easier than confronting those disturbing reminders of the carnage overseas.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said that Bush believes we should "honor and show respect for" those who have died in combat. What better way to do that than to pretend that those soldiers never existed?

If Bush genuinely wants to show respect for these soldiers, then he should spend less time at his ranch and start attending more funerals for these courageous men and women. And if Bush really believes that censoring images is respectful, then why was it OK to air footage from Sept. 11, 2001, in his own re-election campaign ads?

Disseminating only the information that paints the president in a positive light, while simultaneously suppressing dissent and negative press, has become the hallmark policy of this administration.

Not one day after the Maytag firings, Tucson's own Russ Kirk finally obtained permission via the Freedom of Information Act to publish photos of dead U.S. soldiers on his independently run Web site,

At the same time, media conglomerates such as CNN, Reuters and The Associated Press - companies that had a vested interest in obtaining the photos - scrambled to obtain access. But they screwed up and accidentally printed pictures of coffins of the astronauts who died in the Columbia shuttle crash.

Huge mistakes like that usually occur when people are rushed. The greed of these mainstream news outlets, as evidenced by their eagerness to publish the photos before deadline, is unbelievably disgusting. Media is always distorted during wartime, and this sickening error should serve as a reminder of the importance of independent media.

Granted, the pictures will be painful to look at. But we must respect and honor the dead - by remembering them.

Kirk's "memory hole" is, of course, an allusion to the vacuum-powered machine that systematically destroyed recorded history in Orwell's "1984."

And once again, the current administration's attempts to suppress the free flow of information proves stranger than fiction.

Jennifer Kursman supports our troops, not the war. She can be contacted at