Merced Sun-Star Editor Explains Decision to Use AP 'Dying Marine' Photo

September 10, 2009 8:34:45 PM PDT
The editor of the Merced Sun-Star Newspaper ignited a firestorm of controversy when he chose to publish an Associated Press Photo showing a fatally wounded young marine.The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan often make news headlines, but an Associated Press Picture published in Saturday's edition of the Merced-Sun Star is making headlines of its own. The photograph captures Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard shortly after he was struck by a grenade in Afghanistan last month ... and shortly before the 21 year old died from his wounds.

Action News is a partner of the Sun-Star but has chosen not show the picture to honor the wishes of the young marine's family. However executive editor Mike Tharp felt the newspaper's readers should see the graphic image.

"The people in our audience need to know the nature and the extent of the scarifies our servicemen and women are making in the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Tharp.

Mike Tharp served 13 months as a soldier in Vietnam, has covered seven wars, and went to Iraq this summer and last on special assignment. He says those experiences strongly influenced his decision to publish the photo while, to his knowledge, none of the McClatchy Company's other 29 daily papers did.

Tharp said, "People have become desensitized. They're used to a sanitized version of war, and that's no basis on which to make judgments or to cast votes."

But his choice to publish the picture despite objections from Bernard's family and the pentagon has drawn an overwhelmingly negative response from readers. Some bloggers have demanded a formal apology, while others have called for a boycott of the newspaper.

Navy veteran Bill Dacus of Merced's American Legion says the family's wishes should have been respected. He said, "They should be the first priority, I don't care what news agency is doing it, the family should be first."

The marine's family is from Portland, Maine, and his father told our sister station there he disagrees with the Associated Press describing the photo as "part of the history of war."

John Bernard said, "The final sacrifice he can give to his country and you dishonor him by printing it and dare to say you're doing it for posterity."

But as Tharp prepares to explain his decision making process in a column in this Saturday's paper, he still believes he made the right call.

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