Yesterday we asked “Should the United States Release Osama Bin Laden Death Photos?” but by this afternoon the White House announced that President Barack Obama had opted to keep the images secret for fear they would inflame anti-U.S. anger worldwide. “There is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden,” Obama told 60 Minutes in an interview. “We don’t need to spike the football.” Rep. Mike Rogers backed the president’s decision: “Imagine how the American people would react if Al Qaeda killed one of our troops or military leaders, and put photos of the body on the Internet,” he said. But less than two hours later, Reuters went ahead and published images they purchased from a Pakistani security official depicting three bloody bodies of men killed during the raid by U.S. special forces of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. Are pictures of Osama next, despite the president’s wishes? And if our government’s preferences are ignored and a leak of the Bin Laden pictures does occur, will media outlets have the right and responsibility to spread them? That’s the question at hand in today’s Press Clips media column. Plus, photo experts weigh in on the Situation Room instant classic and details of the Daily News‘ own Bin Laden intel.
Bloody Mess: On Wednesday afternoon, Reuters published eight photos from Bin Laden’s compound, three of which show men “dressed in traditional Pakistani garb and one in a t-shirt, with blood streaming from their ears, noses and mouths.” The photos can be seen here, but be warned, are extremely disturbing.
More from Reuters:
The official, who wished to remain anonymous, sold the pictures to Reuters.
None of the men looked like bin Laden. President Barack Obama decided not to release photos of his body because it could have incited violence and used as an al Qaeda propaganda tool, the White House said on Wednesday.
Based on the time-stamps on the pictures, the earliest one was dated May 2, 2:30 a.m., approximately an hour after the completion of the raid in which bin Laden was killed.
Reuters is confident of the authenticity of the purchased images because details in the photos appear to show a wrecked helicopter from the assault, matching details from photos taken independently on Monday.
Though obviously photos of the unnamed men pale in comparison to the weight the secret photos of Bin Laden carry, they do bring up interesting questions about the journalistic quandary that could result from unauthorized Bin Laden death photos.
Assuming such images are leaked and verified, it seems likely that most organizations would run similar photos of Bin Laden’s corpse and, even if they remain unverified and thus out of, say, the New York Times, there would be no stopping the spread online, as we’ve already seen with fake Bin Laden images.
Though U.S. forces were likely much more careful with Bin Laden’s body than the men left behind who ended up in the Reuters photographs, Obama’s decision not to publicize the photos turns the Osama images into something of a holy grail for journalists, who up to this point have scarcely confirmed the story of the Bin Laden raid with anyone other than government officials.
Some computer chair media pundits and at least one actual reporter have already speculated that the Bin Laden photos could become the target of a Freedom of Information Act fight, but whether that’s within the law or not, rest assured: just because the president makes up his mind doesn’t mean that journalists will stop working toward information that is newsworthy, whether the results of that search are unseemly or not.
Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Think of Rolling Stone‘s publication of gruesome photos from Afghanistan of atrocities committed by U.S. troops; surely those put U.S. troops at risk overseas, as the White House argues Bin Laden’s death photos could. And yet there they are, and the same goes for Abu Ghraib or WikiLeaks’ video of a civilian-killing airstrike. Granted there are obvious abuses being carried out in those examples — with Bin Laden there’s a much grayer area — but he, too, is a casualty of war and suppressing images of his death might just make at least a few journalists worldwide hungrier than ever. Just don’t be surprised if this part of the story isn’t over quite yet.
Hot Tip: In other Bin Laden media news, Adweek reports that the New York Daily News had a tip about the famed terrorist’s death “as early as three and a half hours before Obama spoke,” which would place it even before chatter started online.
When the speculation did begin, two men very publicly tweeted about their information: one was Keith Urbahn, an employee of Donald Rumsfeld, and the other was The Rock, the wrestler and actor. We speculated on Monday that both had Navy SEAL connections and as it turns out, yes, The Rock’s cousin is a Navy SEAL, as reported in The Daily, and that’s probably how he knew before everyone else — which is much more comforting than the idea that he has Barack Obama on speed dial.
A Thousand Words: Women’s Wear Daily‘s media desk, meanwhile, gathered photo editors and design experts from Time, Newsweek, GQ, Bloomberg Businesweek and more to talk about what makes Pete Souza’s picture of Obama, Hillary, Biden and co. in the Situation Room so special: “It’s phenomenal, isn’t it?”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 4, 2011