Now We See Coffins Coming Home -- But What About the Other Missing Photos of War?

05/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In no way do I downplay the new Pentagon order (pushed by Obama) that allows the media to cover the remains of fallen service members coming home to the U.S., often at Dover, Delaware. In fact, I have pushed for this in my writing for more than six years now. Families must approve and, amazingly, that indeed happened with the return of Sgt. Myers last night.

But we should not lose sight that the even bigger issue involves the other photos that have rarely or never appeared in the U.S. media -- graphic images of the real toll of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've written about that from the start as well, even talked about it with Bill Moyers on TV while the invasion was still in progress in late March, 2003. The issue then was the uproar over a picture in USA Today that showed an injured soldier. Readers demanded to know why they paper didn't run a more "positive" image.

For whatever reason, the media, in the U.S., in the weeks and then years after that rarely showed the full face of war, despite the brave and remarkable efforts, and wishes, of countless press photographers and cameramen. Bloody scenes, featuring Americans, almost never made the U.S. media, while being widely shown abroad, and on the Web. When they did appear, protests from the government or readers seemed to set the media off this path. Dead Iraqis got more play, but not nearly to the extent called for.

We did a lengthy feature at my magazine, Editor & Publisher, about this five years ago, and little changed afterward. Photogs often complained that their editors back home refused to run the shots, saying that they had to get an okay from the military whenever an injured or dead soldier appeared. By the time they got an okay, if they got it, the "news" value had passed. No longer "timely."

Which is odd, considering the wars still go on.

So, yes, showing the coffins coming home is important but showing how the brave service members ended up in that state was always more important.

Greg Mitchell's latest book is "Why Obama Won." His book last year on Iraq and the media was "So Wrong for So Long."