July 27, 2008

The Case of the U.S. Marines and Photojournalist Zoriah Miller


In the latest instance of the military's uneasy relationship in Iraq with the news media, U.S. Marine commanders expelled an embedded photojournalist for doing something they considered unforgivable -- snapping grisly photos of dead Marines, and posting them on his website.

The case of photojournalist Zoriah Miller, a 32-year-old American, has roiled U.S. Marines in Western Iraq for more than a month. Yet the mainstream media has largely ignored the controversy – until that is, a lengthy article in yesterday's New York Times, “4,000 U.S. Deaths and Just a Handful of Public Images.” While it strove to be circumspect about the issues at play, the Times failed to answer an important question: Who is Zoriah Miller?

The answer explains much about why America's military leaders are not interested in returning to the anything-goes days of media coverage that existed during the Vietnam War. And it explains why Marine commanders in Iraq do not relish the idea of Miller ever again accompanying American troops anywhere in the world.

Miller, a freelancer who uses his first name professionally, had been in Iraq nearly one year when he was expelled. He ran afoul of Marine commanders because of two photos of three dead Marines he published on his website. Initially, Marine commanders ordered Miller to remove the photos. He invited their full wrath with his response.

He refused to obey them.

Immediately, outraged commanders revoked the veteran photojournalist's media credentials. They ordered him aboard the next flight to Baghdad's Green Zone, saying he no longer was welcome in Marine-controlled Western Iraq. In a letter to Miller expelling him, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly -- commander of multi-national forces in Western Iraq – wrote: "By your actions, I have lost confidence in your trustworthiness and your ability to follow the rules vital for protecting U.S. forces assigned to the Iraqi Theater of Operations."

He added, “I have reason to believe that you present a threat all all Multi National Forces-West personnel and installations." A copy of Gen. Kelly's lengthy and detailed July 3 letter, citing specific embed rules Miller allegedly violated, was provided to the American Thinker after a query was made for this story. The general said the photojournalist's detailed blog commentary and graphic photos, about the aftermath of a suicide bombing, had provided the enemy with a valuable after-action report of the attack; it was blamed on Al-Qaida. In his letter, Gen. Kelly said Miller's photo essay offered the terror group valuable intelligence about the effectiveness of their attack and the Marines' response time.

Miller said two armed guards accompanied him as he awaited his flight. The guards were apparently for his own protection. Presumably, some Marines were in ugly moods on learning the photojournalist had posted photos to his website of dead Marines, two veteran officers and an enlisted man.

On his website, Miller has written at length about the arbitrary treatment he says he suffered, and he's defended his conduct. Specifically, he's accused Marine commanders of censorship and ignoring established rules for embedded reporters, rules concerning what photojournalist may or may not publish. He's also portrayed himself as an idealist -- one with an anti-war message. Recently, Miller returned from Baghdad to his native Colorado, having failed to get his embed credentials reinstated while in Baghdad, where he apparently visited the U.S. Embassy. He claims to have gotten a sympathetic hearing from unnamed officials about his efforts to reinstate his credentials.

As to those two photos of three dead Marines, they're still displayed at his website: Zoriah.com. And now thanks to the Times' story, they're displayed on the paper's website. Editors, presumably, believed that publishing them was necessary to tell the story of Zoriah Miller vs. the U.S. Marines -- and to highlight Miller's claims of alleged military censorship. Yet curiously, the Times has never been the sort of paper to publish similar grisly photos of people who died in violent car wrecks or of gunshot wounds. It's a matter of good taste for the Times; and yet this same consideration is not extended to soldiers killed in Iraq.

What exactly did Miller publish? His two close-up photos show Marines whose bodies seem mutilated beyond recognition. One shows a Marine lying face up, his face disfigured. Miller, noting he was sensitive to the Marines' families, said on his blog that the soldiers were are too disfigured for even their families to recognize. And in line with embed rules, he noted, he digitally removed the Marines' name tags from the photos. He suggested the photos were “dignified” and “artistic.”

Some of Miller's Iraq photos are indeed powerful and interesting. But his photos of three dead Marines resemble the tasteless photos found at some ghoulish Internet sites. Now, the Times has stooped to the same level for the sake of its high-minded journalism.

Miller says he's baffled by the angry reaction his photos provoked among Marines. "You're a war photographer, but once you take a picture of what war is like then you get into trouble," he complained at Camp Fallujah, shortly after losing his media credentials. He was quoted in a July 6 article in the Ventura County Star, “Blogger kicked out of Iraq province for war photos,” written by an embedded reporter for the California daily paper, Scott Hadly.

Miller's photos of the dead Marines were part of a graphic photo essay and written account he posted describing the aftermath of a suicide bombing on June 26 in the city of Garma, near Fallujah. The bomber blew himself up at a city council meeting that included shieks and local leaders. At least 20 people died and more than 100 were injured. The Marines killed in the blast were on hand to transfer control of Anbar Provence to Iraqi military forces. The province had been hotbed for the insurgency until the Marines enforced their will on the region.

Before publishing the photos, Miller, in his defense, said he waited until the families of the Marines had been notified of their deaths. Indeed, it was out of consideration for them, he said, that he even provided ample warnings on his website about photos being displayed there of dead Marines. Yet despite his concern, he apparently had no such reservations when granting the Times permission to publish the photos.

Miller's photo essay includes a number of graphic color shots of the dead and dying. One bizarre close-up shows a human hand on the ground above a small pool of blood. The dead included Garma's mayor and a tribal chief.

As to those dead Marines, Miller didn't mention their names, and neither did the Times. They were from the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Division: Battalion commander Lt. Col. Max A. Galeai, 42, of Pago Pago, American Samona; Marine Capt. Philip J. Dykeman, 38, of Brockport, N.Y.; and Cpl. Marcus W. Preudhomme, 23, an administrative assistant from North Miami Beach, Fla.

The Marines died outright in the powerful blast. Miller, moments later, arrived at the gruesome scene with a group of Marines he'd been accompanying; they were from the same division as the dead Marines. One of them vomited, Miller related. Quickly, the Marines set about restoring order: securing the area, helping the wounded, and even collecting body parts. Miller went to work too: He feverishly snapped off photos. Luckily for Miller, he'd reportedly opted to go out with the Marine patrol rather than accepting an invitation to the event.

Regarding his expulsion, Miller contends he followed the military's rules for embedded media members to the letter. Photojournalists, he says, are in fact allowed to photograph and publish photos of dead servicemen under certain circumstances. In his defense, he cited specific sections of the embed rules to support his case.

Why publish grisly close-ups of dead Marines? "I just feel this war has become so sanitized that it was important to show,” Miller told the Ventura County Star. He repeated those comments in the Times' story and during recent interviews with Editor & Publisher, a magazine covering the newspaper industry.

Miller, however, had other motivations, too – though they were not mentioned by the Times and Editor & Publisher which are sympathetic to his cause. Publishing the photos, Miller explained, was justified to show “the reality of the Iraq War.” And he offered some political reasons, too: At his website, he urges visitors who are “offended by the graphic images” to “please do something to stop the political situations and foreign policy that facilitate these atrocities.” What does Miller mean by political situations and foreign policies? He did not explain. But it's clear he has a political agenda, based on other statements at his website, which the Times did not bother to cite.

Miller, for instance, talks much about himself at two Q&A interviews he gave that are posted on his website. In one he says: “I just want to change the world...and I am pretty sure I can do it.”

For the rest of the article, go to The American Thinker.

July 20, 2008

The AP's New Man on the “Race and Ethnicity” Beat


The Associated Press just announced an important change in a high-profile news beat that's overseen by its national desk -- a beat called “race and ethnicity.”

AP's editors, sensing a racially charged presidential election at hand, picked a writer from 449 candidates they'd been considering for their new “race and ethnicity” writer. And last week, they named the lucky writer, a long-time AP staffer named Jesse Washington. Previously, the 39-year-old journalist was the “entertainment editor” at America's most influential news outlet, the source from which most Americans get their news from outside the areas covered by their local newspapers and TV and radio stations.

Earlier in his career, Washington was an editor at two prominent hip-hop magazines. And recently, he published his first novel: “Black Will Shoot,” which is about America's hip-hop culture. Its cover jacket calls it a “compelling look at the most impactful (sic) and influential cultural movement of the past thirty years.”

For AP's editors, the race and ethnicity beat is obviously important. An opening on the beat occurred due to the resignation of AP writer Erin Texeira. Interestingly, the AP gave no reason for her resignation. Among the headlines of some of her memorable stories: “Duke Rape Scandal Reopens Old Wounds For Black Women”; "Slavery Reparations Gaining Momentum" and "Black Men Fight Negative Stereotypes Daily."

So what does the AP's “race and ethnicity” beat mean for the type of news coverage Americans can expect?

In the good old days of American journalism, reporting beats had pretty mundane names: police, city government, national politics, etc. But in the post-modern journalism world, beats like “race and ethnicity” have become popular. And in a sense, they often feed the perception – the false perception -- that America's race relations are in the dire state that's usually portrayed in the mainstream media's stories.

How come? First, consider the very first bias that invariably creeps into a news story: It's that reporters and editors even choose to write a story about something; and in the case of a news beat, they have to produce stories on a particular issue on a regular basis. By itself, the decision to create a news beat says a lot; for it defines a particular subject as being an issue -- one worthy of news space and air time. And a news beat also places a certain onus on reporters and editors. Those covering “race and ethnicity” beats, for instance, are expected to flesh out the basic elements of a story. And the very best stories, of course, invariably revolve around conflict and controversy.

But what if no obvious conflict or controversy exists? Well, for clever reporters entertaining a certain worldview, it's usually easy to come up with something. A beautiful sunset over an orderly middle-class suburb in Chicago or Los Angeles is not necessarily what it seems: It's merely the calm before a Perfect Storm of racial grievances. Basically, that's what's often going on at places like the AP and New York Times in respect to its ongoing and obsessive coverage of “race and ethnicity” in America.

And so then, the “news beats” created by editors say much about what those editors think is important, reflects the potential conflicts they believe are festering all around them. According to his memo on Washington's promotion, published at trade magazine Editor & Publisher, AP's manging editor of U.S. news, Mike Oreskes wrote:

Few subjects permeate every corner of American life more fully than issues of race and ethnicity. So, few assignments have more potential to expand our understanding of America than writing about race and ethnicity.

That is why we have conducted an extensive search for a new national writer to cover this important and complex territory.

That search, ably led by John Affleck, brought in 449 applicants. There were many strong candidates.

It turned out the top choice—and a very exciting one—was right here at home. I am very pleased to announce that our new national writer on race and ethnicity will be Jesse Washington, currently the AP’s Entertainment Editor.

Does race in fact “permeate every corner of American life” as Oreskes claims? There is good reason to believe that it does not, at least not in the way Oreskes and his AP colleagues think it does. And certainly not in the way Barack and Michelle Obama may say or imply. And definitely not the way that's described by Obama's former hate-filled minister and spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright, who recently resigned as pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

Put aside these issues for a moment, however, to consider some things about the AP's new “race and ethnicity" writer. No doubt, Jesse Washington was thanking his lucky stars upon hearing of his promotion. In recent months, after all, thousands of editors and reporters have lost their jobs as the newspaper industry has suffered its worst-ever downsizing bloodbath. Even top people at the New York Times and Washington Post are being shown the door.

Yet Washington, rather than considering himself a lucky insider, considers himself an outsider, at least if Oreskes' memo is anything to go by. The memo not only calls attention to Washington's considerable achievements, it portrays him as something of a scrappy contender – and even a victim. According to Oreskes' memo:

Jesse brings to this new assignment more than just a resume of achievements. He has lived the subject of race and ethnicity every day of his 39 years.

Son of an interracial marriage, Jesse is, as he puts it, “a kid from the projects who went to Yale and married a doctor. I’m a person who fits in everywhere and nowhere.” He and his wife live in suburban Philadelphia with their four children.

Given the AP's evident preoccupation with race and ethnicity, it's interesting that Oreskes' memo makes no mention of Washington's own racial or ethnic background; but a photo of him posted with the AP's online news release reveals what is all but obvious: He's black.

But perhaps the failure of Oreskes' memo to mention Washington's race is consistent with some of the AP's news coverage. Recent AP articles about gang violence in the nation's inner cities, Chicago in particular, made absolutely no mention of the racial or ethnic background of the young thugs rampaging through city streets with high-powered weapons. It took a little Googling to learn that Chicago's gangbangers are part of the city's dysfunctional black culture.

Washington himself has been guilty of such oversights during the early part of his AP career in the mid-1990s. Writing in October, 1993, about Detroit's annual “Devil's Night” – an arson spree occurring on Halloween -- Washington made no mention of the ethnic or racial backgrounds of the young thugs torching vacant buildings during a night of mayhem that “added insult to the city's already injured reputation.” (“Detroit Hopes to Stifle Devil's Night Fires Again,” AP, Oct. 1992.) Then again, maybe the story Washington submitted did mention such things, only to have them deleted by a politically correct AP editor.

According to a check of Factiva, the news archive, Washington wrote a variety of stories while assigned to the AP's national desk in the 1990s, the kinds of stories one might expect on the national beat – crime, political scandals, etc. But he returned repeatedly to stories about race. And invariably, the stories on race that really "moved” on the wires (got picked up by lots of newspapers across the country), involved those that highlighted an earlier period of racism in America's history.

Washington wrote one such story in mid-July of 1991: “White schoolmarm challenged New England's anti-black stance.” Reporting from Canterbury, Conn., he began:

When a strong-willed white schoolteacher in 1833 opened New England's first academy for black girls, she was tormented by her neighbors, made an outlaw by the state Legislature and even jailed.

Today, the clapboard house where Prudence Crandall operated her boarding school is a museum, a monument to one woman's courage and a reminder of a troubling episode in Connecticut history.

Americans, of course, ought to reconsider their history and look back on their past. But in the post-modern journalism world, the approach to news coverage that does that inevitably has a cynical tone -- the equivalent of repeatedly tearing a scab off an old wound. And invariably, progress in the nation's race relations is never noted; it never stresses what America has accomplished, thanks to Americans of all colors working together. Instead, news stories are invariably about what white Americans have done to black Americans; no matter if most white Americans today display little if any racial animus, an issue that Linda Chavez recently highlighted in a perceptive and lengthy piece in the magazine Commentary. She wrote:

To put the truth plainly: far from there being a racial stand-off in the United States, relations between blacks and whites have never been better. According to virtually every survey of racial attitudes taken over the last several decades, only about 10 percent of whites report generally unfavorable views of blacks. In a 2007 Pew Research Center poll, the relevant figure stood at 8 percent—lower, interestingly enough, than the percentage of blacks reporting similarly negative views of their fellow blacks.

Because of the nation’s rapidly changing demography, the whole issue of race and ethnicity in America has become much more complicated and variegated. One thing remains clear, though: in surveys assessing racial attitudes among all groups, non-whites display consistently less favorable attitudes toward each other and toward whites than whites display toward blacks and other minority groups. One such survey, taken in the mid-1990’s, found blacks and Hispanics significantly more likely than whites to regard Asians as hostile to non-Asians and as “crafty in business,” while both Asians and Hispanics were likelier than whites to think that blacks “like living on welfare” and “can’t get ahead on their own.” Nor have inter-minority stereotypes changed much since then. A 2007 poll found that a plurality of blacks would rather do business with whites than with either Hispanics or Asians.

Chavez is chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, the only conservative think tank devoted to race and ethnicity in America. Her conclusions about race in America are far different from what was found in the racist sermons of Jeremiah Wright, the Obama family's former minister.

For the rest of this article, visit The American Thinker.