Worth a Thousand Words: The Associated Press and Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard

Abstract

CSJ-10-0035.0 This case about news photography examines a host of issues, from the mechanics of war photography, to the rules for embedded photographers, to the relationship between the military establishment and the media. In late summer 2009, Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson took a photo, under fire, of a wounded Marine in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard subsequently died. The case deals first with the AP’s internal decisionmaking about whether, and in what context, to run the photograph. As a courtesy, it had notified both Bernard’s family and the Department of Defense. It then had to contend with pressure from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, acting at the behest of the soldier’s father, to pull the photo from the wire service. 

The case allows students into the world of the news photographer and acquaints them with the special pressures of war coverage. Jacobson is a conscientious reporter and photographer who, over years of experience, has formed her own code of behavior for combat situations that recognizes both her own humanity and her professional obligations. Students will have a chance to explore what distinguishes war photographs that inform the public from those that are merely voyeuristic. They will also have the opportunity to consider how the media fits into the larger social context, and specifically the relationship between a powerful federal agency like the Department of Defense and the Associated Press. Are there instances when a news organization should comply with a government request, and how can we recognize those times? Does war change the equation?

This case can be used in a course about photojournalism; international reporting; editorial decisionmaking; or government and media.

This case has an Epilogue and a Teaching Note, visible to faculty after they register.

Credits

This case was written by Kathleen Gilsinan for the Knight Case Studies Initiative, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. The faculty sponsor was Adjunct Associate Professor John Smock. Funding was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. (1010)

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