LA Times' use of dead Afghan photos explodes into big issue *

Added quotes from LAT editor

The Los Angeles Times decided to run two photos of American soldiers posing with dead bodies in Afghanistan that other media decided to pass on. The less graphic photo is on this morning's front page, of an 82nd Airborne soldier with the hand of a corpse on his shoulder. On page A4 is the one that really has some people upset: soldiers holding up the severed legs of a suicide bomber. It seems to me the Times is there to publish the news, and if there's international outrage over the soldiers' actions, that's an argument for going with the photos. But the photos were two years old, and the military asked the paper to withhold publication. That's a dicey request for the military to make, since there was no overriding national security reason not to publish. Anyway, there was a lively debate over the issues raised on this morning's Airtalk on KPCC.

At the Times website, editor Davan Maharaj and national editor Roger Smith are doing a live chat right now. Sample:

The story, and the two photos that accompanied it, outline how a unit of the 82nd airborne mugged and posed with remains when sent on two missions to attempt to get identification of the dead bombers. The Pentagon has denounced the behavior depicted in the photos and has launched a criminal investigation.

The Defense Department also asked the Times not to run the photos. After careful consideration, the paper decided to proceed, selecting two photos out of 18 to be published. The soldier who gave the photos to the Times said he hoped their publication would help ensure that disciplinary breakdowns which endanger troop safety would not be repeated.

3:30 p.m. update: During the chat, Maharaj said "We considered this very carefully."

At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions. We have a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan. On balance, in this case, we felt that the public interest here was served by publishing a limited, but representative sample of these photos, along with a story explaining the circumstances under which they were taken....

The two photos published were chosen because they clearly and unambiguously depict conduct that the Army described as inappropriate. In examining the full set of images, we set aside others on grounds of taste, relevance or repetitiousness. Some were too gruesome. Others were very similar to the two images already chosen or were difficult to interpret.

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