As many of you probably remember, Mike Spann was the first American – a CIA officer – to be killed in the US invasion of Afghanistan. Spann’s death was all over the news (scroll about two thirds of the way down for typical photos), CIA director George Tenet shed a tear on TV at Spann’s funeral, Bush pointed out Spann’s widow in the audience of his State of the Union address, Spann’s funeral and flag-draped coffin were all over the nightly news, and …. well let’s just say that we got a hefty dose of images and stories about Mike Spann and his death.
Leroy Harris-Kelly is a different story. I’m willing to bet that noone reading this has ever heard of Leroy Harris-Kelly. He’s the latest American military fatality (number 706?) in the US invasion of Iraq. He was twenty years old.
So what’s the difference between Mike and Leroy? The answer is that it was politically valuable to broadcast images of Mike Spann’s death back then and it’s politically harmful to broadcast images of Leroy’s death now.
Two recent events relevant to this issue are interesting. An employee of the military contractor Maytag Aircraft was fired for releasing an image of flag-draped coffins coming back from Iraq and there is a battle going on between a press freedom activist and the Department of Defense over the release of these images.
The administration knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there are many thousands of words that they don’t want Americans to hear.