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A Lesson About Copycats

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About 20 readers protested, and a few praised, a stark Page 1 Associated Press photo in Wednesday's editions of a dying child named Ali Hussein being lifted from the dusty rubble of his home after a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad's Sadr City. The caption said he died at a hospital.

Some readers thought it was an antiwar statement; some felt it was in poor taste; others were reminded of their children and didn't want them to see it. Todd Ellinwood of Arlington wrote: "I do not expect to receive the news in an antiseptic fashion -- bad things happen that an informed citizen should be aware of -- but a picture of a toddler in his dying moments is beyond the pale."

Tom Huff of Bealeton thought the picture was "politically motivated. It gives the impression that the war in Iraq is unusually cruel to civilians . . . Note that the militants have used the brutal practice of attacking our troops from civilian populations with the very goal of provoking retaliatory strikes and getting this exact picture onto the front pages of American newspapers." I checked hundreds of U.S. front pages at the Newseum Web site and saw it nowhere else.

Sean Neary of Kensington said, "As horrible as the image is, I applaud The Post for having the courage to print it, especially on the front page . . . Americans needed a wake-up call to the true horror of war. And they got it in the photo of young Ali Hussein."

Bonnie Jo Mount, deputy assistant managing editor/photos, said, "We often publish images of war in the form of inanimate objects: blown-up vehicles, piles of debris, missiles in the air. The injured child reflected the civilian toll and related directly to the news of the day. We have a responsibility to inform our readership; sometimes that means publishing images that might make people uncomfortable."

Executive Editor Len Downie is cautious about such photos. "We have seldom been able to show the human impact of the fighting on Iraqis. We decided this was a rare instance in which we had a powerful image with which to do so."

My first reaction was to wish the photo off Page 1, but I changed my mind. The photo packed more of an emotional wallop than almost any image since that of the little naked girl running from napalm during the Vietnam War. It was a stunning reminder that not only soldiers die in wars.

Deborah Howell can be reached at 202-334-7582 or atombudsman@washpost.com.


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