American Forces Press Service
Sept. 4, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates used the strongest terms in trying to persuade the Associated Press to refrain from running a graphic picture of a Marine taken shortly after the servicemember was wounded in southern Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today. Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard later died on the operating table Aug. 14.
The Marine's family in New Portland, Maine, asked the Associated Press not to run the photo, which was taken by Julie Jacobson, who was embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
The AP put out a series of photographs of the Marine patrol, and Gates objected to one showing Bernard clearly in anguish while being treated. He had just been hit in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade.
When Gates heard the AP was going to send the photo to its subscribers, he called Thomas Curley, president and chief executive officer of the news service, asking him to pull the photo, Morrell said.
Morrell quoted the secretary as saying to Curley, "I'm begging you to defer to the wishes of the family. This will cause them great pain."
Curley told the secretary he would reconvene his editorial team to re-examine the release.
The secretary followed his call with a letter to AP. "I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard's death has caused his family," the secretary wrote. "Why your organization would purposefully defy the family's wishes knowing full well that it will lead to more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency."
Curley got back to Morrell later yesterday afternoon and said his crew had "seriously considered the secretary's concerns and the families concerns ... but ultimately decided that they wanted to proceed with pushing out this image to their clients," Morrell said.
Morrell said Gates was extremely disappointed that the Associated Press did not adhere to the wishes of the family. The vast majority of news outlets did not run the photo, he added.