Michael Vass comments on AP photo of Marine

Dear Readers,

Sometimes being a member of the press sickens me. It happens in times where the press and media reach below the bowels of the lowest common denominator and dredge up muck. We all learned about one such instance when Entertainment Tonight published a photo of the dead body of Michael Jackson on a stretcher as doctors struggled to save his life. I spoke harshly of that decision and those that would benefit from the suffering of a family in a time of grief.

Yet again I find myself having to denounce a decision of another news organization. This time it the Associated Press. Normally this is a news agency of high regard and solid reporting. But I assume that the need to make a profit in a recession exceeded the obvious and declared standards of good taste and respect. Such is the media of today.

The AP published a photo of a Marine, Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, as he was dying from wounds received in a firefight in Afghanistan. This went against the multiple requests of the family NOT to publish this photo.

“Bernard’s father after seeing the image of his mortally wounded son said he opposed its publication, saying it was disrespectful to his son’s memory. John Bernard reiterated his viewpoint in a telephone call to the AP on Wednesday”

Not only did the AP decide that the wishes of the family were unimportant, they ignored requests via phone and in writing from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates directly contacted the president of the AP Thomas Curley in a phone call and then again with a letter that states in part

“Out of respect for his family’s wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly. In one of my first public statements as Secretary of Defense, I stated that the media should not be treated as the enemy, and made it a point to thank journalists for revealing problems that need to be fixed – as was the case with Walter Reed.

I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

I believe the wishes of the family should have been respected. I believe that Gate’s request should have been honored. I see no benefit to the stories of Afghanistan, or to history, from the display of the final moments of this Marine. The only attempted result of this picture (that I will never publish) is to create controversy and profit.

Not only did the AP use the death of this Marine, the Buffalo News, (Wheeling, W.Va.) Intelligencer, Akron Beacon-Journal and the St. Petersburg Times all ran the photo. I denounce the use of this photo. I am appalled by decision of the editors of each of these news organization in seeking to gain profit and circulation via profiteering on the death of a Marine and controversy that can only amplify the anguish of the Bernard family.

The Bernard family has my most sincere and deep condolences. Lcpl Bernard gave his life for this country, something I deeply respect and understand. His memory should be honored, not disgraced.

I recommend to all my readers to avoid the AP, Buffalo News, (Wheeling, W.Va.) Intelligencer, Akron Beacon-Journal and the St. Petersburg Times if at all possible. While it cannot right what has been done, perhaps losing the circulation and profits they have held above dignity and respect will prevent another such travesty.


Michael Vass
President – M V Consulting, Inc

About the Author

Michael Vass
Born in 1968, a political commentator for over a decade. Has traveled the U.S. and lived in Moscow and Tsblisi, A former stockbroker and 2014 Congressional candidate. Passionate about politics with emphasis on 1st and 2nd Amendments.

3 Comments on "Michael Vass comments on AP photo of Marine"

  1. Comment as seen at 1800blogger, where I am a contributing author.

    Kathy Mahoney Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 2:22 pm e
    Undoubtedly Mr. Bernard did not need to see his son’s body as he lay dying. Mr. Bernard not only is the father, but also a Marine. But Joshua Bernard’s fellow Marines were okay with the publication. (I don’t know if they said, we’re okay with it, ask the family).

    But with the deepest and profoundest sympathy to Mr. Bernard and his family – the photo needs to be seen by the American people.

    We need to respect all the sacrifices our miltary personnel make for us. We need to respect the fact they have kept us safe. We need to hold accountable those who make decisions as to the deployment of personnel.

    We need to honor this young sacrifice. Do I stop and pay attention – no. I have not seen the photograph – I am not going to view it.

    But I think Joshua Bernard is now in death – a symbol for all service people who give the life in defense of our country.

    We will not fail to meet the task set before us. The horror of his dead body will not send us into a retreat so that we fail to protect our country. But it will firm our resolve to make sure that the good men and women who serve do not die in vain. It will make us ensure that our leaders are held accountable and that they weigh the cost of the decisions with the actual need to sacrifice our fellow citizens.

    I respect the family. I am sorry for their loss. I am sorry that the father had to go through this, the it was the photograph of his son, that was the one that was published. And maybe this is a sacrifice the family must make, not chosen but thrust upon them. Their son was willing to die for America. He made that choice. America needs to see the photo so that we truly understand what this war is about, what sacrifices are being made. And support all military families.

    I am sorry the Bernards are the ones with the published photo. Their grief is genuine and they have a right to privacy. But we need now to be faithful to the memory of Joshua Bernard and not let his death – which I now know about – and now care about – not be in vain. Semper Fi, may his memory be eternal. Kathryn J. Mahoney

  2. Kathy,

    I do respect the opinion you have stated. And I can understand it in part. But the photo is more than what you believe and far worse in the results.

    Fisrt, as I stated in the post, this photo does not advance the story of what is going on in Afghanistan. If the question is the cost in American lives we need only see the caskets (with family permission as stated by President Obama) as they return to America.

    Seeing the gruesome details of the last moments of a Marine does not make the impact of his loss more than if there was a photo of his funeral. It does make it a voyeruistic event, and lessens the dedication to little more than what you might see in a slasher movie, or at best in a film like Saving Private Ryan. That is my opiniion as a Marine and American.

    There is also the fact that the wishes of the family were completely ignored. It is a disrespect to the entire family, and thus to Lcpl Bernard.

    As a side note, I am unaware of any Marines that are ok with this photo. To my knowledge none that were there have advocated its publication. And at the time it was taken I am sure they were far more occupied with saving Lcpl Bernard and dealing with the firefight than posing for a photo.

    But how will this photo be used? Why did the AP publish it, against all wishes?

    One theory may be that almost all the media in the nation oppose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Not because they are pacifists, but due to political reasons. This was most prominent during the Bush Administration, but still exists now.

    This photo advances the ideals of groups like Moveon.org and Code Pink. It is fodder for the likes of George Soros and others with enough money and influence to use this photo for their own agendas. Which is not what Lcpl Bernard fought and died for.

    Marines are not political. They do not choose the battles they wage. They act for the nation, as the leaders of this nation order. Because WE believe that ultimately the actions are in the best interest of the nation, even if that is not evident immediately.

    Thus to have an image that might in any way be used to convey a message that counters that dedication and purpose is opposed the the core of our military. It was photos like this in Viet nam that led to the political decisions that lost the war, cost higher numbers of American soldiers, and created the vaccum that are the POW/MIA’s fell into.

    The average American does not think of this when they see a photo like the one published by the AP. they think thqat they never want this to happen to thier son or daughter. And they pressure politicians, who have even less of an understanding of what our troops go through (most of them). Thus decisions are made on a political and not military basis – which inevitiably costs lives.

    No matter the reasons of the start of the wars our brave and patriotic military fight, they deserve every chance to survive. They deserve our full support. They deserve to not have their hands tied by political decisions based on re-election as opposed to military decisions that achieve the goals they were sent to do.

    Supporting our military is not to claim support in photo ops and then create a political machine that prevents soldiers from doing their jobs. Support is not rushing to meet political timetables and polling data. Support does not involve ratings or economic trading partners.

    This photo, in no manner that I can see, provides nothing for support of our troops. It does allow some to pervert it to gain political momentum, which effectively is not the support of our troops.

    So for all these reasons, I oppose this photo and publication. There is no just cause for this photo being published. There are many political ones though. there is disrespect. There is the monetary gain. Which leads me to the same conclusion I first stated. The decision of the AP is appaling.

    Kathryn, I respect that you see other reasons for the publication. And if I truly believed that those were the only reasons it was published I might agree with you. But I am confident that this is not the case.

    I hope that the suffering of the Bernard family is short, and that the political manuevering is blatant and short-lived. If nothing else, I pray that this never happens again.

  3. If this is so impotant to the AP, why don’t they publish photo’s of the people that are dieing or dead from DWI’s. Dringing and driving kills more that than both wars….
    Retired Army Vet.

Thank you for lending your voice. We appreciate hearing what you have to say.

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