Flag-Draped Coffins and the Seattle Times


On April 18, The Seattle Times ran a photograph of flag-draped coffins leaving Iraq on the front page of its Sunday edition. Since then, the photograph has been circulated around the world and its author, Tami Silicio, has become an overnight celebrity.

For its part, the Seattle Times has run a front page segment every day, (for the last 8 days) extracting every bit of life it can from the well-worn photograph.

The reader response has been overwhelming, with thousands of e mails filing in from around the world. Most of those writing have been supportive of both Silicio and the Times for publishing the picture, although their have been a few strident critics of the policy.

Despite the groundswell of public approval, the President and the Pentagon have said that the policy of photographing the coffins of dead soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base will not change. They know as well as anyone that support for the war in Iraq is likely to shift quickly if Americans become more familiar with its terrible cost.

The story is as illustrative of the abysmal coverage of the ongoing conflict as it is of the heavy-handed state censorship that keeps such pictures out of public view.

How is it that more than a year has passed without seeing one casket, one dead soldier or one maimed civilian?

When Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman asked CNN’s Aaron Brown why they weren’t showing footage of casualties, Brown responded that it might be seen to be in poor taste. It’s poor taste when the electorate is informed of the realities of war, but not when TV reels off the hundreds of violent acts that are considered routine on an evenings programming.

No one is confused by Brown’s analysis. Most people understand that showing the bloody mess in Iraq would have dire political consequences; consequences that might be incompatible with the long-range goals of America’s pro-war media.

And no one should be confused about the Seattle Times transformation into "defender of the First Amendment," a pathetic ruse if ever there was one. The Times has taken a photograph that should be the average fare for any truly free press, and is trying to make it look like the second drafting of the Declaration of Independence. The amount of self congratulations in running the photo is downright embarrassing.

The Times record in the area of free speech is somewhat dimmed by its lawsuit against its city rival, The Seattle PI. The Times is doing whatever it can to undermine the JOA (Joint Operating Agreement) which is the PI’s only lifeline to continuing in the Seattle market. If the Times lawsuit succeeds the PI will be forced to close its doors and the Times will be in the enviable position of being the only newspaper in town.

In other words, free speech is just fine with the editors of the Times as long as all other voices are effectively silenced.

Anyone who reads the Times knows that they’ve been on board with virtually every right wing policy emerging from the Bush White House. They even went so far as to endorse the war in Iraq a full month before Bush called for the invasion. (While the weapons inspectors were still on the ground and the UN was not involved) The Times has never backtracked or apologized for its original support of the war even in the face of the overwhelming evidence that it was based on false pretenses.

Instead, they have augmented their error by endorsing the dubious policy of "democratizing" Iraq, even while the carnage in both Fallujah and Baghdad steadily increases.

The Times may imagine itself as "rebelling" against the directives from the Pentagon or as an ardent defender of free speech, but the truth is far different.

The photograph may shore up the Times crumbling credibility, but it will never atone for the many who died in Iraq with the newspaper’s tacit approval.

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