Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Times Change

It’s very, very interesting to me what things spark outrage in our country today. And it’s curious which of these outrages are considered news stories by the national media, which of these stories develop into full-blown cable news hissy fits, and which ones bring out the torch-and-pitchfork crowds.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Pentagon banned photos of flag-draped coffins returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, back in 2004 the Republican-controlled Senate defeated a Democratic bill which would have allowed the Pentagon to show pictures of flag-draped coffins. From the memory hole:
Some Republicans, including Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, complained that Democrats were trying to score election-year points with the effort. Mr. Grassley noted that the policy had been in place since the first Bush administration, in 1991. ''This policy has been in place for 13 years,'' he said. ''Nobody has raised a complaint about it until now.''

In April 2004, military contractor Tami Silico and her husband were fired from Maytag Aircraft after taking pictures of flag-draped coffins on their way home from Kuwait. I always wondered how that picture came to the media’s attention. Simple: it was given directly to the Seattle Times by Tami and her friend Amy Katz (I urge everyone to read Poynter’s piece on the entire photo affair).

Liberals were accused of exploiting dead soldiers for political gain, our patriotism and support of the troops was questioned, and it was a full-tilt hissy fit.

I have to wonder: if that photo had been sent to the Associated Press, would it have been published?

It should be noted that under the Obama Administration, the Pentagon has reversed that policy, provided the families of the fallen agree (Michelle Malkin called the change "selective transparency”.)

Here's another one: It was only a few years ago that conservatives were in full hissy-fit mode over Ted Koppel’s “The Fallen” episode of Nightline, in which Koppel read the names of all U.S. soliders killed in the line of duty in Iraq. There was mass hysteria from the right; even Sinclair Broadcasting refused to air it.

Does anyone remember that? It really wasn’t all that long ago.

So I’m just curious why no one seems to care that this week the Associated Press published a photo of a dying U.S. Marine in Afghanistan.

Over the objections of the soldier’s family.

If pictures of flag-draped coffins and reading the names of war dead while showing their pictures in full-dress uniform was so objectionable when Bush was president, why isn’t a picture of a bloodied and dying Marine sparking outrage in right-wing circles now that Obama is president?

Who decides these things? Is there some Office of National Outrage, some Right Wing Hissy Fit Board where they decide which story will become the prevailing narrative of the day and which will not?

This past week we were in full torch-and-pitchfork mode over President Obama’s speech to schoolkids, which struck me as wholly manufactured and really quite silly. The Associated Press, which never went out of its way to show readers the human cost of war when Bush was president, seemed to jump at the opportunity to display a rather gruesome photo of an actual dying soldier, over the family's objections:

"We understand Mr. Bernard's anguish. We believe this image is part of the history of this war. The story and photos are in themselves a respectful treatment and recognition of sacrifice," said AP senior managing editor John Daniszewski.

I'm curious where all of these photos were when we were being given rah-rah, yellow-ribbon-magnet, support-the-troops pep talks when Bush was president.

And I'm curious where all of the right wing outrage is about this particular image, when images far more benign were enough to spark protests, blackouts, boycotts, and firings.

It's all very curious to me.