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Gabriel Rotello Headshot

The Media and Iraq: What's Wrong With This Picture?

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Mr. Bush wants to know why the media don't publish more "success stories" about Iraq. I want to know the opposite: why the media don't publish photos and videos that -- in no uncertain terms -- show the blood-drenched truth.

Watching TV news or reading the papers, you'd think this was a war without human faces. There are no victims, only numbers. "39 Killed." "50 Dead."

But where are the bodies? That's right, the mangled, gouged, decapitated, amputated, burned bodies?

I'll tell you where: On File. Locked away in the photo and video archives of the major news organizations. The supposedly "negative" media are deliberately holding back from actually showing us the negative human costs of Bush's war, and that puts the lie to any blather about how negative they really are.

It wasn't always this way. In Vietnam, three famous photos spelled things out: The photo of the little girl running down the street drenched with napalm. The photo of the Viet Cong captive having his brains blown out on the street, execution-style. The photo of the bodies piled up at My Lai.

I bet most of you instantly conjured those images just now. For good reason. They're iconic. They won Pulitzer Prizes and major journalism awards because they told, in an instant, everything you needed to know about what was happening.

Three years into Iraq, can you conjure any comparable images? I'll bet the answer's no.

And don't let anybody tell you that it's because the public -- or the media -- are more sensitive today. The media certainly weren't skittish about pictures of the tsunami victims. Or the bloated corpses of Rwanda. Or abandoned bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans.

Editors and producers had no problem with those bodies. Their only problem is with bodies in Iraq.

Why? They don't want to be accused of being negative, of undermining the war effort. Pictures of somebody's dead husband, or baby, or grandma, or brother, tend to do that. You can dismiss a statistic. It's harder to dismiss a lifeless stare, a child's screams.

So how ironic, in the face of what amounts to a massive media blackout of the blood-drenched truth, to watch us consume ourselves in a debate over whether the media are being "too negative" about Iraq.

Too negative? The Administration should be handing out awards to every editor and news producer who decides to kill the picture that's worth a thousand words.