What set Army Spc. Travis Babbitt's last moments in Iraq apart was that he confronted them in front of a journalist's camera.
An Associated Press photograph of the mortally wounded Babbitt remains a rarity -- one of a handful of pictures of dead or dying American service members to be published in this country since the start of the Iraq war more than two years ago.
A review of six prominent U.S. newspapers and the nation's two most popular newsmagazines during a recent six-month period found almost no pictures from the war zone of Americans killed in action. During that time, 559 Americans and Western allies died. The same publications ran 44 photos from Iraq to represent the thousands of Westerners wounded during that same time.
Many photographers and editors believe they are delivering Americans an incomplete portrait of the violence that has killed 1,797 U.S. service members and their Western allies and wounded 12,516 Americans.
Only 44 photos. Try to wrap your mind around that. It's difficult, at least for me.
Here are some reasons for the low numbers, plus one editor's point of view:
"We in the news business are not doing a very good job of showing our readers what has really happened over there," said Pim Van Hemmen, assistant managing editor for photography at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.
"Writing in a headline that 1,500 Americans have died doesn't give you nearly the impact of showing one serviceman who is dead," Van Hemmen said. "It's the power of visuals."
Obviously, the reasons are complex. The article mentions that some imbedded photojournalists have been censored by the military units with whom they are associated; they are often told to turn off their cameras. Also, many of the pictures can't be published due to privacy reasons, namely if the soldier's identity can be recognized. Also, some photos are deemed too graphic to publish.
Of course, the internet wingnut contingency had an opinion:
I have some news for you, genius: the war is an unmitigated disaster. Click here to read Riding Sun's comments on the AP photos. Apparently, he's a Michelle Malkin and LGF fan. Big surprise.
Finally, please check out the flash presentation on the sidebar of the article. It includes the AP photo of Travis Babbitt, as well as photos from previous wars.
Look below the fold for two tables that accompany the article. Note that the Seattle Times is the only paper that has published a photo of one of the fallen soldiers. Also note that the papers have posted photos of dead Iraqis.
I've also posted the AP photo of Babbit; you can click it for a larger image, which is a screenshot I took of the flash presentation.