Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Horror at the Photo, and Often, Anger at the Messenger

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Horror at the Photo, and Often, Anger at the Messenger

Article excerpt

MESSENGERS GOT SHOT many times this past week. The unwelcome message was that some Somalians whom the U.S. has been trying to help don't appreciate our efforts - to the point of killing American soldiers and gleefully dragging their bodies through the dirt in front of the cameras.

One of those messengers was the Post-Dispatch. Others included newspapers around the nation that considered a photo of a dead soldier an important eye-opener, important enough for Americans to see the horror for themselves.

Instead of zeroing in on the Somalians who were biting the hand trying to feed them, readers zeroed in on the hand that fed them the horrifying news.

After much deliberation, Post-Dispatch editors decided to run the photo on Page 8A rather than Page One, so it wouldn't be seen as insensitive treatment - that it wouldn't be the main item confronting readers when they picked up their paper.

Even so, almost all the first-day reaction from readers was negative.

Another messenger who took some potshots: me. Some women readers have criticized me for pointing out, in a reaction story the next day, that most of the first complaints were from women, who primarily were expressing empathy for the dead soldier's family.

"That's the only issue for them," I was quoted in a news story rounding up the press treatment of the photo.

Some women readers took my comment as a put-down, as if I considered an emotional, familial concern an unworthy reason to object to the photo's publication.

Not what I thought at all. I was in agreement with those first complainants whose primary thoughts were of the dead soldier's wife, mother, father, sons or daughters.

Their running theme was: Imagine waking up that morning to see your loved one in that photo!

That's the humane response, a far more important and natural one, in my view, than a political or strategic consideration.

Reactions saying, in effect, that we need to go into Somalia and "kick 'em or get out" came only from men, as stated by one Vietnam veteran who has a 17-year-old son.

This is not to say many men readers didn't respond with the humane reaction. Most of them did. Still, my having pointed out a gender difference, both in numbers and reactions, made me an unwelcome messenger, too.

The count so far: About 60 readers have now called about the photo, with women outnumbering the men 4-to-1. A handful said the picture should have been on Page One to make sure everyone would see a shocking truth about our venture into Somalia.

Here's a sampling of comments:

"I understand all the objections, but the paper has a higher duty to let all GIs know what they're in for over there." - Michael F. Cato

"As a nurse, I'm sickened by that picture. It's in horrible taste, considering that a Belleville soldier was one of those killed." - Jan Chapman

"I'm appalled. …

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