The AP and Joshua Bernard

The decision made by the Associated Press to publish a photograph of a mortally wounded Marine in Afghanistan has been condemned by many, including the slain soldier’s family and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The photo itself is both horrifying and heart wrenching, as it shows Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard clinging to life as he lay in the mud, one leg completely severed and the other badly mangled, the result of a rocket-propelled grenade fired during a Taliban ambush.

Though the photo was taken on Aug. 14, the AP didn’t release it until Sept. 4, after the slain soldier’s burial, and after having shown several photos from the scene to Bernard’s family.

The view from here is that the AP did the right thing.  What, after all, do we imagine?  That when a U.S. soldier dies on foreign soil his passing is like that of a stateside family member, sedated against pain and surrounded by loved ones?

Lance Corporal Bernard paid a terrible price — the ultimate price — in service to his country, and for us not to be able to look his death in the face is not only cowardly and intellectually dishonest, it robs Bernard’s sacrifice of any meaning, as though he just wandered off peacefully somewhere, a quiescent statistic.

To express such an opinion is not to utter a single word either for or against the war in Afghanistan.  That is another issue.  Rather, the point here is that, when it comes to matters of life and death in direct consequence of government policy, we owe it to those in harm’s way, and to ourselves, not to sugar coat or sanitize the brutal results.

In recent months the AP has made some serious mistakes in judgment, most recently in the decision to distribute so-called “investigative news stories” paid for by nonprofit organizations with a political agenda.  But the decision to publish the photo of Joshua Bernard was not a mistake.  It was, instead, exactly right.

Rupert Murdoch and the Future of Journalism

It’s reported that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., pledged last week that his company has plans to charge for the online news content of all its newspapers and television channels.  Though the announcement came with few details as to when the charges will commence or how they will be structured, the fact that it is Murdoch who is leading this campaign is hugely important.

This, because nobody is better equipped– by background, influence, knowledge, or constitution–to attempt such a move.

One of the most telling examples of Murdoch’s shrewdness and tenacity was put on display in 1986 when, as chronicled by his biographer, William Shawcross, he broke the Fleet Street print unions that went on strike against his plans to modernize his newspapers’ printing processes.  Against all odds the striking union members, 6,000 strong, were obliged to surrender a year later after it transpired that the company had built and secretly equipped a new printing plant for all of its British newspapers in the London district of Wapping.

If News Corp.’s plans fail it will send shock waves throughout the industry, but if it succeeds — that is, if its titles can generate sufficient revenue from access fees and advertising — Murdoch will be owed an enormous debt by newspaper publishers here and abroad.  They won’t pay that debt, and some, like The New York Times, are unlikely even to acknowledge it, but it is certain that many will follow his lead, as Murdoch himself claims.

That he is very much on their minds even now is shown in a remarkable story published yesterday (Sunday) in The Observer, sister paper of The Guardian in the UK, one of Murdoch’s biggest political and business adversaries.

The lead paragraph sums things up nicely: "Rupert  Murdoch is often cast as the villain of the newspaper trade, but having revitalized the Wall Street Journal and with his radical plans to charge for access to online papers, he could be the unlikely saviour of the beleaguered industry."

And what a relief that would be!  Because if professional journalism is to survive it will have to be paid for, and paid for handsomely.  And the only way to do that is by putting together a business plan that features at least two revenue streams.

Whatever the outcome, Murdoch’s plan provides a stark contrast with the naive and corrosive idea, entertained by some, that journalism can survive on a diet of investigative news stories issuing from nonprofits, "citizen journalism," and greater funding for public media.