After debating with myself the consequences and benefits of running this photo, I decided that if I were the editor, I would run this photo, just not on the front page of the newspaper. When I first saw the image and read the accompanying description, my jaw dropped. I was appalled. It’s pretty gruesome and hardly an image the everyday person wants to see as they are eating their breakfast with the morning paper. But in my opinion, that’s not reason enough to refrain from running it in the paper. No matter how gruesome it is, this is happening. The duty of the news media is to tell people the truth about what’s going on in the world. We can’t hide the truth about the war just because it might offend some people. On top of that, nothing delivers a message like a photograph. Telling this story with only words simply wouldn’t have the same effect as running the photo.
Another reason I would not refrain from publishing this photograph is that it is not obvious what is being hanged. Without a description, it’s nearly impossible to tell that these are the remains of human bodies, much less those of American civilians. If the charred bodies could be recognized as human forms, I would most likely still run it, but possibly on the newspaper’s website with some sort of warning ahead before the reader just stumbles upon it. If the bodies were not charred or the face on one of the bodies was recognizable, I would not run the photograph. I would not want to run the risk of any of these civilians being recognized. Even if none of the faces were showing, someone could possibly recognize a family member based on their clothes, body types, where they lived in Iraq, etc. The harm inflicted upon the family members of these civilians outweighs any benefits of running the photograph. In my opinion, who was charred doesn’t make a huge difference in my decision, unless they were children. If they were American soldiers rather than civilians, or if they were Iraqis, the duty of the newspaper is still to display what’s happening. However, if they were Iraqis being hanged, I would want to be very cautious about how I would present the photograph so it doesn’t seem that I am praising their actions. On the other hand, if children were charred, I would absolutely not run the photograph. Maybe I don’t have a solid, justified reason, but that just seems cruel.
I would prefer an alternate image on the front page, and I would run this story inside the paper. I would not make it any bigger or smaller than a standard news image, especially because it is not obvious that people are being hanged. If it were obvious, I would make the photograph smaller or run it on the website instead. I suppose I would include an explanation for running the photograph. I would explain the importance of publishing the truth about world news, no matter how gruesome or appalling it is. I would issue a warning about the graphic nature of the photo on the website. I don’t know how that would work in the print edition, but if it were possible, I would do it. Although I may be tempted, I would not alter the photo in any way. In news, there are only a few exceptional cases in which it would be acceptable to alter a photo, and even then the newspaper would need to tell the reader it was altered. This is not one of those cases. The media platform would have a huge influence in whether I run this photo and how I run it. On the website, I would not put this photo on the homepage, but rather include a warning about graphic footage. On television, I would also make a verbal warning before running these kinds of photos. But even then, there is the risk of someone simply flipping through the channels stumbling upon a photo they don’t want to see.
The issue of public opinion for or against the war in Iraq would not really affect my decision. It’s not like publishing this photograph is manipulating the news in any way to make a point. This photograph is telling people what’s happening, whether they support the war or not. Any change of opinion would be the result of an honest portrayal of the war, not manipulation or propaganda. The only questions Poynter poses that would concern me is that it would somehow affect the safety of other civilians or soldiers in Iraq. This photo could possibly be a sort of inspiration among (some) Iraqis, possibly spurring even more violence. And more violence is the last thing I would want.