Howard Kurtz commentary [UPDATED]
HOWARD KURTZ: And the following I call troubling.
Michael Ware was one of the most familiar faces on CNN, reporting from war zones in that loud Australian accent. He has now left the network and is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after having witnessed the horrors of war.
This week, in an interview that aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ware got more specific. He says that in 2007, he witnessed and filmed an atrocity, one involving a teenage boy in an Iraqi village who was carrying a weapon.
One of the soldiers, Ware says, shot the boy in the back of the head. The correspondent says that over the next 20 minutes, he watched the teenager die and was stunned by how inured he had become to violence, like the soldiers around him. Ware also says that CNN decided the footage was too graphic to put on the air.
Now, television networks make those decisions all the time, but if the footage of soldiers shooting a teenager was considered too raw to broadcast, why wasn't the story aired without pictures? Isn't shooting someone in the back of a head a potential war crime? Did CNN have any responsibility to report this shooting to military authorities?
I wanted to put those questions to CNN executives, but the network declined to make anyone available for an interview. Instead, its press office issued a brief statement.
"CNN often has to make calls about which disturbing images are necessary to tell a story and which are too graphic. These are always challenging, and the subject of reasoned editorial debate. On this occasion, we decided not to show an Iraqi insurgent dying with fatal wounds."
Now, maybe CNN made the right call. Maybe there were reasons not to report the story, even without pictures. But when a news organization won't answer questions, we have no way of knowing.
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I would just like to add a few clarifying remarks...
First of all, unless something drastic has happened in the past week, Michael has not left CNN. He is on a one-year medical leave.
Second, Michael talked about this incident back in 2008. At that time, he clearly stated: “There’s no blame here. The guy was a legitimate target who was rightfully shot in the head.” The ‘war crime’ he talks about in the second part of the Australian documentary is the fact that it took 20 minutes for the guy to die, during which time the soldiers did nothing to aid him, as is called for in the Geneva Conventions. From the sound of it, they could not have saved his life (half his head was blown away) but they could have given him a shot of morphine or whatever it is that soldiers carry these days. Instead they stood and watched, indifferent to his suffering. And Michael’s point in telling this story is that he was just as numb and unfeeling as the soldiers. That’s what war does to people.