David Harsanyi
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Why did The Associated Press -- and newspapers across the country -- run the controversial and disturbing images of an American Marine dying in Afghanistan? The AP said it was "to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it."

It succeeded. Fortunately, we are not a nation of trembling children powerless to discern between news and exploitation. And it is, despite the anger surrounding the AP's decision, the job of the press to offer citizens a glimpse -- albeit slight, in this case -- of the war they cover.

When photographer Julie Jacobson was patrolling with a Marine unit that came under attack in southern Afghanistan, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and died of his injuries. Embedded, Jacobson had photos of the unit prior to the attacks, of Bernard's death, of the evacuation and of the memorial service Bernard's fellow Marines held for him after his death. She did her job admirably.

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Yet Sarah Palin, echoing the blistering condemnation of some conservatives and others, called the move a "heartless and selfish decision to turn its back on the wishes of a grieving family in order to exploit the tragic death of a true American hero." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a "scathing" letter to Tom Curley, president and CEO of the AP, bemoaning his "lack of compassion and common sense" and "judgment and common decency" for defying "the family's wishes."

When looking at the photo series, "Death of a Marine," I felt a heightened respect for the gravity of war. The pictures unquestionably added humanity and context to Bernard's death.

Now, if I could recall a wanton penchant of the press to run photos of dead Marines, my reaction might have been very different.

It is also conceivable, of course, that I'm a callous journalist, willing to set aside all decency to quench my baser voyeuristic instincts. There is an undeniable emotional component to these pictures that can't be disregarded. It is unfathomable to imagine the anguish the Bernard family must feel.

Yet the awful reality remains. As cruel as it sounds, those concerns should not guide the journalist's decision-making process; the press can't be solely beholden to notions of decency or compassion -- subjective, as they are in most cases -- when it has a duty to follow a story wherever it goes.

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