We become that which we focus on.
I have been reading the accounts of how the Los Angeles Times came to possess damaging photographs of U.S. Military men from 2010 an their ultimate decision to run two of these photos despite the Secretary of Defense’s belief that to do so would put men and women on the ground at risk. In fact even after the LA Times had decided to run the photos, the Defense Department asked for 48 hours to increase security in Afghanistan and the paper agreed.
I also happened to see that not only did the New York Times track down the Columbian prostitute who was short-changed by Secret Service members, kicking off the firestorm, but the New York Post came up with pictures of her that were splashed all over the web today.
I’ve had long correspondences with photo journalist Michael Kamber about the power of images in framing our national policy and just how controlled the narrative is particularly when it comes to war. Michael has in fact collected thousands of photographs from his decade on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times from photo journalists on all sides of those wars that were quite literally censored. The newspapers needed access to report the wars, the military made clear what images were acceptable and what were not, and therefore the images fed to the American people were framed according to a very precise script.
The problem is that script has now fallen completely apart.
When a Marine goes on a rampage killing 16 Afghan civilians does that reflect in any way on our policy or is that just one guy losing his mind? What does two year old images involving the desecration of insurgent bodies prove about our mission? How about a couple dozen military and secret service personel hiring hookers when they are suppose to be preparing for a Presidential visit to a less than secure country. Does that say anything about the quality of our military? Our character as a nation?
I’d turn each of those questions around. Why do we find these images so powerful when they tell only a tiny fraction of the broader story? I certainly realize that military men behaving despicably is worthy of reporting particularly as it impacts national security. But do we ever step back to ask why this is happening? Who is really responsible? Or are we all just rubber-neckers at the horrific car accident, content to block traffic while we stare at the carnage?
To my way of thinking there is a much broader story to tell about what we have done in Iraq and then Afghanistan, both for good and awfully wrong. But that story certainly never sees the front page. And there is a far more significant story to tell about men in uniform and out who are courageous and trying to do the right thing rather than ending up with hookers in a Columbian hotel room. But God knows that story doesn’t even make the paper.
We become that which we focus on. In a world with shorter and shorter attention spans reality is increasingly captured in a headline and an image. We are assaulted with a massive dumbing down of foreign policy, of manhood, of nuanced truth.
Are the images from the New York Post and LA Times worth reporting? I suppose so. But only if we stop to think about what a tiny fraction of the larger picture they really are. But that is the problem. We are unable to put them in context because we are so obsessed with the sleaze that we forget to ask what it even means.
Images from New York Post and LA Times