I’m appreciative of the reader response to my column last Sunday on photographic images from Syria. A few of those responses have made me realize that some further explanation is in order, on two points.
Several readers responded to a statement in the column about how rarely The Times publishes photographs from the aftermath of American drone strikes. My point was that these strikes have also killed children, just as chemical weapons in Syria have, but that we don’t see large front-page images of the victims.
The filmmaker Robert Greenwald drew my attention to the photographs of drone strike victims, which have been used by The Huffington Post. And a commenter, Dotconnector from New York, incisively noted that The Huffington Post gave prominent display to a photograph of children who died in a drone attack in Afghanistan in April, positioning it “all the way across the top of its home page.”
Mr. Greenwald, who has produced a film about drones, said it is extremely important for Americans to see images of those who have died in those attacks. “Images’ impact on narrative is deeply underestimated, especially by professionals who are most often driven by words and data,” he wrote. He discussed the film in an interview with D. B. Grady in The Week.
I asked Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor in charge of photography at The Times, about these readers’ observations. She pointed out that on April 8, The Times published a photograph of children who died in a drone strike, and on April 19 did so again, as well as publishing a photograph of a children’s grave in Afghanistan.
Could the photographs of the children have been displayed more prominently, rather than small and on inside pages? No doubt. By contrast, the photograph of the dead Syrian children was displayed at the top of the front page — undoubtedly dictated by the news value of the chemical weapons attack. But the children are equally human and there is news value in both situations. It’s hard to imagine anyone not being moved by the sight of these innocent faces.
(On the subject of American drone strikes, I’ve written about how often the victims are described by government sources as “militants,” when that is not always the case.)
I also fielded a question from a reader, Maura T. Fan of New York City, challenging my statement that many readers find graphic photographs of foreigners far easier to take than those of Americans. That reader wanted to know my evidence for the statement. I responded by e-mail that I based it on personal experience: many years as an editor, and many conversations with other editors around the country. I can’t prove it, but I do continue to believe it. I also should have made it clear that, even if the images are deeply disturbing, it’s still important that they are seen.
And I wanted to mention someone who was helpful on the column, but whom space did not permit me to quote: Mickey Osterreicher, a longtime photographer who now, as the lawyer who represents the National Press Photographers Association, works on press-freedom problems, of which there is an endless supply.
Finally, there is a thought-provoking post by Michael Shaw on the photojournalism site BagNews about a famed image from the Vietnam War that I mentioned in the column: Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl.” This post discusses how the photograph was edited, calling it “one of the most significant crops” in history.