Furor over Davidson photo most since Fallujah

Complaints about the photo of a smiling Lemaricus Davidson have continued. I don’t believe any photo has caused such a furor since the picture of the corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
My column for this Sunday compares the reaction to these very different but still disturbing images:
It has been almost two weeks, and we’re still getting criticism for running a photo of a Lemaricus Davidson grinning.
These complaints have not been mild:
“The picture of a smiling Davidson and his attorneys on the front page was disgusting and in very poor taste.”
* “Show some respect for the families of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.”
* “That was a glimpse into Hell!”
The reaction, in fact, is the most vehement we have had to a photograph since the 2004 image of the burned corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq.
The decision to publish that photo followed a protracted news-meeting debate. Although the photo was horrifying, we decided readers deserved to see the image because of the seriousness of the situation.
Perhaps mistakenly, the Davidson photo triggered much less discussion. We already had run dozens of courtroom shots from the case, and the picture, though capturing an unusual and telling moment, was just one part of our ongoing coverage.
Readers voiced a variety of objections to the Fallujah photo.
Some felt it was simply too grisly. It didn’t pass the “Cheerios test,” as we say when content is too raw to offer with breakfast.
Others were concerned about children. The young, parents said, should not have such a nightmarish image thrust upon them.
Still others felt the photograph was disrespectful of the dead, an unnecessary violation of their privacy heaped upon already unspeakable abuse.
A few also voiced concern for the families of the dead and asked how we would feel if those were our sons hanging from the bridge.
Some readers did support publication of the Fallujah photo.
They argued that Americans had a right and a duty to witness the grim reality of Iraq. They considered the photo to be within the tradition of American war photography, which has conveyed painful truths ranging from scenes of the Antietam battlefield to the image of a burned and naked Vietnamese girl running from napalm.
The truth, they felt, needs to be seen.
The objections to the Davidson photo were, perhaps, more complex.
On the face of it, the scene wasn’t ghastly. Innocent children wouldn’t have been frightened by the photo. The men weren’t hideous in appearance.
In a way, it was the normalcy of the scene that was so upsetting. Set against the images in our own minds of the horror of Channon and Christopher’s deaths, the levity at the defense table jarred.
Many readers directed their anger at the newspaper when they considered how the Newsom and Christian families would feel about seeing the photograph.
Here at the News Sentinel, we believe it is important to convey to the community the facts of this case, even the sadly painful ones. We are committed to documenting this important judicial process thoroughly.
But certainly we wish no harm to the Christians and Newsoms, who already experience far more horror in that courtroom than any of us can imagine and whose suffering is beyond all nightmares.
We have nothing but the deepest sympathy, compassion and prayers for them.