Reporting on Iraq

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(Host) Commentator Traci Griffith reflects on how the media is reporting the story from Iraq.

(Griffith) The often heard phrase about pictures being worth a thousand words has never meant more than in recent weeks with the release of those horrible abuse photos now at the center of a military investigation.

But those photos, which detailed abuse of Iraqi captives at the hands of U.S. soldiers, aren’t the first photos to shake up our world in times of turmoil. There have been numerous periods in our history that have been influenced and the course of history even changed in the wake of shocking photos being made public.

One of the main roles of media in our society is to bring home the realities of the world around us. How would we in Vermont ever know about the war in Iraq or the tornados in the Midwest or the winner of American Idol if it were not for our media? The media has immense power to influence people and shape public policy. We’ve been witness to it before as photographs of major events chronicle and highlight the events of our times.

Who can forget the pictures of hundreds of flagged draped caskets returning from Vietnam? Suddenly the reality of war is brought home to the American people.

What about the pictures of millions of starving Somalis? Those pictures launched a relief effort where previously there was none.

The video of white Los Angeles police officers viciously beating black motorist Rodney King sparked riots and led to investigations of racial profiling around the country.

And now we have the photos from that infamous prison in Iraq. It remains to be seen what changes will result from these photos. It is early yet, but some of the soldiers involved and the Lt. General in charge have already felt the repercussions.

Experts say that photographs and video, unlike any other type of media, places the viewer in the scene. In other words, you view the picture and subconsciously place yourself in the frame. You realize that it could be you being attacked by policemen and police dogs as you march for equal rights in the 1960s. Or that it could be you, or someone you know, forced to balance on a bucket with electrical wires attached to your extremities, as seen in one of the Iraqi prison photos.

Our world as we know it can be changed by a photograph. The effects of the media on our world are most evident with scenes like these but the effect on history only time will tell.

Traci Griffith is a professor of journalism at Saint Michael’s College.

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