A 27-year-old Army veteran in full uniform lies dead with a twisted white sheet covering his body. The statue of a Civil War soldier stands over him, looking down as if to gaze at what had happened just a few feet away.
The deceased man apparently used an assault rifle to shoot himself on the steps of the Veterans Affairs medical center in Dayton, Ohio. The man, who I will not name, enlisted in the Army in 2003 shortly after the Iraq invasion before leaving the service in 2007. Details of the soldier's suicide are vague, but it seems to be another reminder of the devastation inflicted on our citizens when they are sent to fight an unjust war.
But political feelings aside, why did The Associated Press feel the need to publish the photo of this man? How does it serve the story in any way besides to sensationalize his death? The AP used the full shot from the Dayton Daily News, which cropped the photo for its website.
There were plenty of times when I was sent out following a fatal car accident -- many times the person was ejected from the vehicle -- and the photographer declined to capture the shot or would not agree to have it published.
Using difficult photos is one of the most troublesome decisions for an editor. Some elicit strong emotional responses that would be tamed with a censored photo. But the details of this soldier's death are clear. And any good reporter would have been able to describe the sad scene, while also preserving this man's dignity.
UPDATE: 4:26 p.m. - In the few minutes after writing this post, the Post-Gazette and Associated Press have taken the non-cropped photo down from their websites.
Photo by Ron Alvey/Dayton Daily News
2 months ago