I'm not sure what the correct response would have been from the New York Times to the State Department's request Wednesday not to post online a graphic AFP photograph of the fatally wounded U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.There are reasonable arguments both ways, I suppose, and the Times's associate managing editor for standards may be right when he says, “this chaotic and violent event was extremely significant as a news story, and we believe this photo helps to convey that situation to Times readers in a powerful way.”
But I was struck by this comment by Ian Fisher, the associate managing editor who was in charge of the Times's web site: “We don’t hesitate to run pictures of Iraqis, Syrians and Qaddafi dead. We’ve been at war for years. We’ve shown a lot of bodies.”
“A lot of bodies.” Once upon a time, the New York Times would have hesitated to treat the body of a U.S. ambassador as just another of “a lot of bodies” of war victims, or foreign dictators. Of course, once upon a time, the New York Times thought it might have special obligations to the people of the country in which it is located, and to the government of that country—our country. That’s why, once upon a time, the Times might not have published, as it has over the last several years, secrets that our government believed would damage our national security, or photos that our government worried would endanger our troops.