Kim Murphy, the assistant managing editor for foreign and national news, discusses the deliberations she went through and how the decision was made to publish the photograph in the Los Angeles Times. Had to do it. The photo originated with the Dogan News Agency and European Pressphoto Agency.
These kinds of debates in newsrooms are not unusual. Foreign correspondents, a job I held for a number of years, often argue with editors that we have an obligation as journalists to make readers — and voters — more keenly aware of the costs of the wars the U.S. fights in foreign lands. Editors most often err on the side of protecting readers’ sensibilities, and whatever fragile privacy those wars’ victims manage to maintain.
As assistant managing editor for foreign and national news, I consulted with other senior editors, but to me, this one was in a category all its own. It was brutally disturbing, yes. But it promised to trouble our readers not by its violence, but by its searing sadness.
We have written stories about migrants suffocated in trucks, run over by trains, drowned in capsized boats, but these tragedies have unfolded largely unwitnessed; here was a boy — 3-year-old Aylan, we learned later — whose fate forced anyone who saw him to confront the magnitude of the migrant crisis unfolding in Europe and the Middle East. A crisis that our nation, through the wars it has fought in the region, had a hand in igniting. A human drama that has seen European nations struggle to confront the streams of refugees, some of them fleeing horrific violence, who have turned up pleading at their doors — while the U.S. admitted just 36 Syrian refugees in fiscal 2013.