Thinking Things Through,
Journalism Edition:

SlagleRock's Slaughterhouse has a small complaint to register against Harper's magazine. They recently did a story on desertion in the American military (a friendly story, in fact: it was called, "AWOL in America: When Desertion is the Only Option.")

Not only did they do a story, it was the cover story! So, naturally they need a cover photograph.

So who did they pick? Our friend the paratrooper in Canada? The guy who skipped out on his ship just before it left port to go help the stricken in Indonesia?

No. Marine Corps Recruits, actively engaged in serving their country:

Marine recruits so new that their hair hasn't been cut don't sound like the best models for a story about soldiers going AWOL - particularly since none in the group is a deserter....

The cover photo, taken at Parris Island, S.C., shows seven Marines lined up in their T-shirts, shorts and socks. They are not identified in photo credits or in the article. In fact, Harper's says the Marines are not meant to depict people in the article.

"We are decorating pages," said Giulia Melucci, the magazine's vice president for public relations. "We are not saying the soldiers are AWOL. Our covers are not necessarily representative."

Ah, yes. Nonrepresentational art. That's a dying movement even in the art world, though; I hadn't heard it had spread to cover photographs of national magazines.

Besides which, the excuse is absurd on its face. It was a cover photograph. Of course it was meant to represent the point of the article. Otherwise, you could just put a color splotch on the cover. Or some attractive paisley pattern.

There's a line in the movie Unforgiven in which Clint Eastwood's character is chastized for having shot an unarmed tavern owner, because the owner had placed the body of a fellow gunfighter in an open casket on the tavern's porch. "He should have armed himself if he's gonna decorate his saloon with my friend," Eastwood replied.

Harper's should have armed itself with a better excuse before it decided to decorate its pages with our friends. It wouldn't have cost them much to hire actors to play recruits for a quick photoshoot. Instead, they decided to use the photos of brave young men to represent cowards and oathbreakers.


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