EDITORIAL: ‘Times’ takes high ground

On Wednesday of last week, the United States reached its second major casualty milestone since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. As of that day, 2,000 men and women had been killed.

Sadly, 2,000 often is just a number, but it may have been more for those readers who read the New York Times Oct. 26.

From Page A16 to A19 in the newspaper, 995 mug shots of those who have died were published, each with a full name, an age and a hometown. The pictured troops were those who had been identified since early September 2004, when the Times published an accounting of the first 1,000 troops who died overseas. According to the Times, “The dead come from all branches of the armed services and represent the highest toll since the Vietnam War.”

Two of the members of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board believe four pages of faces of the dead is too much.

We, however, realize the pages’ newsworthiness and their possible impact on readers. The New York Times did its editorial job in printing the faces of those who have died in the War in Iraq. The death toll reached 2,000. The number is news, and it is every newspaper’s job to inform its readers of news. Put simply, The New York Times took the high road by doing its job. Instead of simply printing the number 2,000 and leaving readers to realize the importance of the milestone, the newspaper used four full pages to show the dead as people with faces and hometowns.

Readers can see on Page A17 that 29-year-old Dimitrios Gavriel of New York had dark eyes and a strong jawline. Without his photograph, Gavriel’s name may have been one of 995 without individual significance to the average reader. With his photograph, some readers may recognize that this man was human, that he presumably had a family and friends he never came home to. It is this recognition – for Gavriel and the hundreds of other troops whose photographs were published – that validates the Times‘ four-page spread.

Truly, part of this debate rests upon the responsibilities reporters and editors have to their readers. We believe they should do more than simply design pages and write stories. They should put things into context. They should tell readers why they should care.

The Times accomplished this with its faces of the dead. Other newspapers played the story on their front pages – large and often centerpiece – but the Times used four pages of quarter-size photographs to make it clear: This story is important. Two thousand men and women have given their lives in this war.

The Times did not influence readers to draw anti-war conclusions. It laid out the facts accurately on inside pages to give readers a choice about reading them and left that decision-making process up to its audience. Conservatives should stop pointing angry fingers at the newspaper, upset that the Times is making the war out to be a mistake. The newspaper printed the news, and the news is not good. Both those who support the war and those who do not must accept the facts.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of three members of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.