NYT: More Photos of Dead Soldiers, Please

The media actually cites the restrictions on photos of dead soldiers as an excuse for the decline in its Iraq coverage. But is this just an anti-war position packaged as a press freedom issue?

The Times wants more photos of dead soldiers from Iraq, judging from Saturday's front page story,"4,000 U.S Deaths, and a Handful of Images." The text box: "Covering Iraq Combat Puts Journalists and Military at Odds."

But the case of Zoriah Miller, a freelance photographer banned from covering the Marines, doesn't elicit much sympathy, as even reporters Michael Kamber and Tim Arango probably suspect.

The case of a freelance photographer in Iraq who was barred from covering the Marines after he posted photos on the Internet of several of them dead has underscored what some journalists say is a growing effort by the American military to control graphic images from the war.

Zoriah Miller, the photographer who took images of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of the country. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world. Mr. Miller has since left Iraq.

If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists - too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts - the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme: after five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths, searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.

It is a complex issue, with competing claims often difficult to weigh in an age of instant communication around the globe via the Internet, in which such images can add to the immediate grief of families and the anger of comrades still in the field.

While the Bush administration faced criticism for overt political manipulation in not permitting photos of flag-draped coffins, the issue is more emotional on the battlefield: local military commanders worry about security in publishing images of the American dead as well as an affront to the dignity of fallen comrades. Most newspapers refuse to publish such pictures as a matter of policy.

But opponents of the war, civil liberties advocates and journalists argue that the public portrayal of the war is being sanitized and that Americans who choose to do so have the right to see - in whatever medium - the human cost of a war that polls consistently show is unpopular with Americans.

Does this demand for dead soldiers photos also apply to the war in Afghanistan, which remains popular with Americans and was supported even by liberals at the time? Or is this just an anti-Iraq War position packaged as a press freedom issue?

Journalists say it is now harder, or harder than in the earlier years, to accompany troops in Iraq on combat missions. Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. Detainees were widely photographed in the early years of the war, but the Department of Defense, citing prisoners' rights, has recently stopped that practice as well.

In a real display show of chutzpa, the media blamedthe photograph restrictions for the decline in its coverage of Iraq. Is the media's argument: Let us show more dead soldiers or we won't cover your war?

News organizations say that such restrictions are one factor in declining coverage of the war, along with the danger, the high cost to financially ailing media outlets and diminished interest among Americans in following the war. By a recent count, only half a dozen Western photographers were covering a war in which 150,000 American troops are engaged.

The paper has been making this complaint since the war begin. Back on April 7, 2003, with the main battle for Iraq still ongoing, media reporter David Carr wrote:

Some cultural critics say that the relatively softened imagery has more to do with a political need to celebrate victory without dwelling on its price. If this is war, they ask, where is the gore?

To prove its point on Saturday, the Timesran a photo from last month of the bodies of unidentified Marines killed in a suicide bombing in Garma, Iraq. Yet while the Times insists on showing the dark side of the Iraq war in the form of dead soldiers, it has, along with the rest of the media, been extremely reluctant to show photos from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What is it afraid of?