The Times on Snipers:

You have probably seen the New York Times / International Herald Tribune story on the problem of snipers. I've been trying to figure out what to say about it.

The worst thing I can say about it is to point out an omission in it. C. J. Chivers, the author, writes:

Most of the time, the marines said, the snipers aim for the troops' heads, necks and armpits, displaying knowledge of gaps in their protective gear.
"Displaying knowledge of gaps in their protective gear." And where did that knowledge come from?

Perhaps from the fact that the New York Times published a diagram of our body armor, helpfully showing where it was vulnerable?

That's information that really should have been included in this story, if the point is to give people an honest reading of the problem of snipers. Or, for that matter, the problem of the insurgency: the fact that media coverage of insurgent attacks has been demonstrated to increase their frequency. It's a force multiplier. Anyone writing on the topic -- and I'm not suggesting they shouldn't ever write on it -- should not only keep that in mind, but make the point. The reader should always be reminded that the insurgent was thinking of them, as much as the Marine, when he pulled the trigger.

The omission -- especially of the mention of body-armor diagrams -- isn't the only complaint to make. Most of the complaints with the series focus on the pictures, because they drive raw emotions. What Cassandra said here about the earlier part of the series goes as well for this part. An editorial decision to publish pictures of bloodied US Marines is just that: a decision.

How to judge that decision? Allah points out that the Times front-paged the worst picture, not the best one. Both images are just as valid -- which one do you lead with? They led with the one that shows blood and pain, not the one that shows a fellow Marine putting his own body between the wounded man and the sniper, ready to reply to further shots with his grenade launcher.

The same decision was made in the text. The reporter made a decision to treat the problem in graphic, emotional terms. That is a valid way to treat it -- bullet wounds are nasty, and the emotions people feel are real. Having wounds described in these direct terms gives you a sense of the real sacrifice our Marines make, and the risks to which they volunteer time and again to expose themselves.

Like the Times, though, while his story has all the data, it leads with the wound. It could have led with other things. It ought to have admitted its own complicity in the problem of snipers.

A reflection of that sort -- on the degree to which their past coverage has literally helped the enemy hurt Marines -- would be wise. Perhaps it would cause them to consider more carefully what they print in the future.

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