The Silence Of The Lambs

A big congratulations to the New York Times Lens blog for yet another obfuscatory, confusing, and overtly misleading piece about Libya, ISIS and the chaos that reigns there. Oh, but you will argue, this is not about that, but about the suffering of the families of the Christians who were killed by ISIS. Its an emotional story. A human interest story. Indeed. It is anything but that. It is in fact very much about the fact that the deaths of the these men occurred at the hands of a militancy that only exists because of the near decade long series of idiotic, immoral, criminal and illegitimate military actions we have been gleefully conducting in the region. That is, there is a history, and it is one that we as Americans have written with mendacity, illegality, brutality and simple stupidity. But of course, in the finest traditions of propaganda journalism, all this is simply jettisoned.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.22.46Libya is that conflict that a number of New York Times photographers tried to cover, and tried to help sell as ‘a people’s revolution’ and just another part of the changes sweeping the region that were labelled ‘The Arab Spring’. But of course, it was not. It was nothing more than an overt regime change orchestrated under NATO / US bombardment and with the arming of militant groups that has today left the country in complete chaos and madness.

A quick reminder of a very recent history, since the writers of this piece, and the emotionally focused photographer never bother to mention:

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The photographer, Mr. Rashad, is determined to focus on emotions and feelings of those who suffered this loss. But Mr. Rashad would do well to remember that these murders – as brutal and inhumane was they are – come in context of thousands of other deaths – they come in the context of a war that the Americans and Europeans initiated, and conducted. It comes in the chaos of that illegal war – one that was conducted by bypassing the US congress, and all international bodies and law, the same one photographers from this same newspaper were selling as as a ‘liberation’ and rushing to join and be heroes in.

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I find it egregiously irresponsible and unethical, as a journalist and as a photographer, to write and produce projects that erase context, and that attempt to pull at heart strings, and do so to serve the interests of power. In this case, a power that is responsible for the hell that has been created in Libya, and because of whose policies thousands have died and will die as the nation falls apart. I find it bizarre that major photo editors – or least people who are judged to be major photo editors, allow such works to be featured. Even a modicum of journalistic professionalism would demand that the photographer, and the writer, provide a clear and explicit context to the conflict, and help the reader understand the political, economic and social histories within which it has taken place. But of course, we know that for a publication like the New York Times, and for so many others in the USA today, speaking honestly about our illegal, immoral and brutal violence and wars is anathema. As it has been for decades. We, the pure and the innocent, cannot be woken from our horrifying intellectual and moral slumber.

It is all well and good to write emotionally charged pieces. But when you write them in a way that erases the crimes of the very nations whose publications you send your work to, you become complicit in those crimes because your work helps whitewash them. Much has been said about the irrelevance, uselessness and pointlessness of photography and photojournalism. These realities are almost always blamed on technology, citizen journalism, and other such issues. But it is never blamed on the fact that photojournalist have been castrated – some willingly others reluctantly, from speaking politically and historically. They have been reduced to mere button pushes producing silent aesthetic objects. Photo editors have used their dominating positions to silence photographers – note  how often they tell you ‘the photo must say it all’, and to carve their works into carefully structured emotional or ahistorical essays. Photojournalisms finest are themselves responsible for its pointlessness these days. A pointlessness we have seen too often recently in coverage of Libya, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan where American photojournalists are merely producing propaganda photos that are always available for uses by the imperial news machine. Stories such as these one which attempt to speak about something grave and inhumane are reduced to ideological caricatures by the editors at the publication when they entirely remove all historical and political context.

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