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A Matter of Decency

Dec 2, 2017
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CBS Radio reporter Cami McCormick returned to the U.S. last week, beginning the next phase of her recovery from wounds suffered while covering the war in Afghanistan.

Ms. McCormick, a veteran combat journalist, was seriously injured when an IED exploded beneath the military vehicle she was riding in. A U.S. solider in the same vehicle was killed. Details of Ms. McCormick’s wounds have not been released, but she underwent initial treatment at Bagram AB in Afghanistan, before being transferred to the U.S. military medical center at Landstuhl, Germany, then on to Walter Reed. Updates on her condition have been limited to a few statements from CBS News.

There is nothing wrong with the McCormick family (and the network) restricting the release of information about the wounded journalist. During such difficult times, Ms. McCormick is certainly entitled to her privacy. When she speaks about her ordeal, it will be on her terms, and at a time and place of McCormick’s choosing. It’s a policy the press honored when other journalists–including ABC’s Bob Woodruff and CBS’s Kimberly Dozier–were injured while covering the war in Iraq.

That policy stands in stark contrast to press treament of Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, whose dying moments were transmitted around the world by the Associated Press. A reporter and photographer from the wire service were embedded with Bernard’s unit when he was struck by a rocket propelled grenade. As Corporal Bernard struggled to live, the photographer kept clicking away. He later died in surgery at a nearby field hospital.

In another time, such images would be withheld or even destroyed. But today’s AP doesn’t operate under those restrictions, at least when members of the U.S. military are involved. Over the objections of Bernard’s grieving father, the Associated Press elected to disseminate the images to its subscribers around the world.

The wire service’s president, Thomas Curley, said the decision to transmit the photographs was made after “extensive deliberations.” Readers will note that an AP reporter in Maine, where the Bernard family resides, showed them the photos only after they were published. How considerate. Ultimately, the AP claimed, it was important to show viewers and readers the images, “in the context of the full report” (whatever that means).

Fine, but if that’s the new standard, the Associated Press has been negligent in its coverage of other, high-profile attacks in the war zone. At the time she was wounded, Ms. McCormick was carrying a digital audio device which allows reporters to record, edit and transmit audio files. To understand the “full context” of that attack, shouldn’t listeners hear the audio from that machine, particularly if it was recording when the attack occurred?

And shouldn’t viewers be able to watch video from the bombings that nearly killed Bob Woodruff and Kimberly Dozier. Never mind that two members of Ms. Dozier’s crew died in the blast. Seeing those final, horrific images would help Americans better understand the conflict, if you accept the AP’s rationale.

We’re guessing most Americans don’t, but that’s another story. Eight years into the War on Terror (or whatever it’s being called these days), the vast majority of news consumers understand the human toll of conflict. We don’t need to see graphic photos of a brave, dying Marine to appreciate the sacrifice of 5,000 American heroes who have died in service to this nation.

By disseminating the images of Joshua Bernard to a global audience, the AP not only violated his privacy, it also removed any remaining doubts about the political agenda of the world’s largest wire service. Corporal Bernard became a prop to advance a cause, with no consideration for his grieving family.

Someone should ask Mr. Curley the same question posed to Joe McCarthy in the 1950s: “Have you no decency, sir?” Sadly, we know the answer to that question.

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