Convergence Personal Technology Web/Tech

War comes home

Seattle Times photo of coffins in KuwaitWhen I returned to Seattle Monday night, I immediately saw that I’d forgotten to suspend our subscription to The Seattle Times. Little did I know that the Sunday paper had broken a story that would topple the ban on photos of casualties of the Iraq war.

When I saw the front page story Tuesday morning, I didn’t realize that it was a Seattle Times exclusive. That tidbit would wait until today, when I read that the Edmonds, WA resident had been fired (they canned her husband, too) from her contract job in Kuwait as a result of the photo being published and the Pentagon putting pressure on the contractor (Maytag).

This recent military ban on photos applied to “news media,” but how do we define news or media in an age of personal publishing (blogs) and camera-enabled cell phones?

The bandwagon moved slowly
Major news media were slow to pick up the Seattle Times story, although a senior editor appeared on a morning TV news show yesterday. But the firing of the photographer led to Reuters and AP wire stories, and the photo has been shown around the world in “legitimate” media sites, from London to Sydney, although most stories reference, but do not display, the image.

Publishing photos of the coffins is controversial among military families, with some applauding the ban and others suggesting it be lifted so that Americans are forced to deal with the reality of war casualties. However, these photos are tame compared with those published of contractors brutally murdered in Iraq earlier this month.

I thought the photo was appropriate and respectful. It showed the care taken by those responsible for returning soldiers to their families, but it also served as a powerful reminder that American lives are being lost daily in a very foreign land.

The Memory Hole
The owner of Memory Hole was successful in a FOI (Freedom of Information) request for photos from Dover Air Force base; the military sent him 361 photos which can be seen on his site or at a mirror on

Does he represent “media”? The Internet is certainly a “medium” — and more people traverse the Net than watch any local TV station or read any local (or national) newspaper.

Apparantly the Pentagon is POed, since the Defense Department has subsequently banned releasing any photos to news outlets.

Someone should sell them a clue. The genie is out of the bottle. The images are digital and are on the Web — available to any and all. What will they try next, to pressure web hosting companies?

It was images such as these that helped turn the tide of public opinion during the Vietnam war, which might explain this harsh — and totally counter-productive — reaction.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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