The Time magazine cover story this week arrives with a graphic cover image next to the title, "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." It shows an Afghan teen named Aisha whose nose and ears had been sliced off by the Taliban.
Inside, editor Rick Stengel explains that he consulted psychologists about what harm could be done to children who might see this disturbing image. But he also defends the aim of the story itself in the following paragraph:
"The much publicized release of classified documents by WikiLeaks has already ratcheted up the debate about the war. Our story and the haunting cover image by the distinguished South African photographer Jodi Bieber are meant to contribute to that debate. We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground. As lawmakers and citizens begin to sort through the information about the war and make up their minds, our job is to provide context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time. What you see in these pictures and our story is something that you cannot find in those 91,000 documents: a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead."
This Time treatment arrives on the same day Nick Kristof, a longtime defender of global women's issues, in The New York TImes took a quite different approach, highlighting the gross "misallocation" of U.S. resources to the war when our own country is suffering from horrendous unemployment and a cracking educational system, among other woes.
I've also previously highlighted the surging rate in U.S. soldier suicides -- check this shocking official report released just today. Yesterday the Afghan government said 52 civilians had been killed in a NATO missile attack. One could go on. (I do it every day.)
Also very much worth mentioning: the girl on the cover was attacked not in long ago days of Taliban rule but not long ago -- with tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the country.
I have to ask: In Time's mission to really "illuminate what is actually happening on the ground" has it ever put on its cover close-up images of 1) a badly wounded or dead U.S. soldier 2) an Afghan killed in a NATO missile strike 3) an Afghan official, police officer or military commander accepting a bribe from a Taliban war lord?
No one makes light of the plight of women and children in Afghanistan under the Taliban -- and, contrary to Stengel's claim, many Americans do know about it. Indeed, liberal women's groups in the U.S. have raised the issue often and expressed mixed feelings about staying (or even escalating) in Afghanistan because of it. It's a serious issue. And please see the response to Time by the Feminist Peace Network. Jezebel with another good take here.
But I'd propose here a few alternative, or at least additional, cover images, all showing Americans here at home, that Time might go with an upcoming cover on "What Happens If We LEAVE Afghanistan." Please supply your own ideas in the comments section below.
-- A student in a high-tech classroom.
-- Workers streaming into a newly re-opened factory.
-- A poor black or Hispanic woman examined by a doctor in a first-class facility.
-- A returning soldier embraced by his wife and two kids.
-- Solar panels being erected on a huge office building.
Well, you get the idea. Contribute to list or take issue below.
Greg Mitchell writes the popular Media Fix blog at The Nation, where this first appeared. He was the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher and author of nine books, including "So Wrong for So Long: How the the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed on Iraq." His twitter feed is @gregmitch.
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