As major media struggle over how gruesome and realistic war coverage should be, one alternative newssite has been shut down for posting “inappropriate graphic content.”
Late yesterday, Yellow Times was shut down by its hosting company following a controversy that began when the site ran photos of Iraqi and American war casualties.
The row began Sunday, when a Yellow Times editor used his home computer to save frames from the Al-Jazeera network footage of captured American POWs.
Fifteen minutes after the Al-Jazeera broadcast, the shots were posted on the Yellow Times site. According to Yellow Times, the shots of the dead American soldiers chosen by the site did not show enough to allow their identities to be discerned. The site also said it included headshots of the live POWs.
The photos were posted before those on the Drudge Report newssite. Yellow Times editor Erich Marquardt told WND that since the Drudge Report was known as a conservative site, he believed the photos published there, including that of a grinning Iraqi standing over dead American soldiers, were chosen to bolster Americans’ support for the war.
By contrast, Marquardt says his site was posting photos of casualties on both sides. The site bears the name Yellow Times to denounce what the editors cite as prevalent major media “yellow journalism,” especially “sensationalistic” and “biased” coverage of war.
According to the editor, Vortech Hosting,Yellow Times’ hosting service, began receiving complaints about the photos. Vortech then suspended the Yellow Times account for “inappropriate graphic content”
Vortech sent the following e-mail to YT notifying it of the shut down: “As ‘NO’ TV station in the U.S. is allowing any dead U.S. solders or POWs to be displayed and we will not ether [sic]. We understand free press and all but we don’t want someone’s family member to see them on some site. It is disrespectful, tacky & disgusting. No mother, brother, sister, wife or child should see their love one plastered all over the Net wounded or dead.”
Marquardt explained to WND his decision to run the photos: “We believe that in corporate media, especially in the U.S., there is a romanticized view of war” he said. Because major media don’t show graphic images, he argues, people forget what real war looks like and become desensitized.
Continued Marquardt: “When we watch CNN or MSNBC reporters that are embedded, we hear the reports of firing at night, but the targets we can’t see. Still people are glued to the TV. We want to show what real war looks like.”
Marquardt reports that Vortech stated it would much rather risk a First Amendment lawsuit than a lawsuit from a relative of a soldier shown on the website.
“The company rep was very courteous, but he made it clear he was making a personal choice,” Marquardt said.
YT removed all the photos, which were subsequently posted on a New Zealand site. YT did keep a link to the site, however, which they were reportedly told to remove as well. Marquardt termed the demand to remove a link “censorship.” The link was removed, however, and the YT site went up again.
WND contacted Vortech several times, but company employees declined comment and referred the newssite to their “acceptable use policy.”
After receiving calls from WND and Reuters, Vortech permanently shut down the Yellow Times site. Marquardt said the company complained that YT had “disparaged” them and that since the servers belonged to Vortech, they had the right to boot YT off.
The “disparagement” comment referred to an explanation YT previously had posted about the down time and removal of photos, which had not named the hosting site.
WND spoke with Abe Peck, professor of journalism at Northwestern University, about the Yellow Times controversy. Peck authored “Uncovering the ’60s: The Life and Times of the Underground Press” and has worked as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News.
“Part of the controversy has a lot to do with the medium of the Internet,” said Peck. “The genie’s out of the bottle now. Anything can get out there, and once it does there are all kinds of decisions that need to be made. Within minutes, information can be rocketed around the world, and then it’s reproducible.”
Peck added that occasionally Internet hosts can be pressured. Using the recent example of sales of Nazi memorabilia on the Web, Peck emphasized that although the specifics of the situations weren’t comparable, both were examples of “unparalleled access to information.”
“And that will always bring up real questions of taste,” he said.
Peck added that broadcasting images of dead soldiers was certainly not new: “In the Vietnam days, we saw pictures of dead soldiers.” But he sees another factor at work now possibly affecting the Yellow Times situation. Peck believes there was a “general expectation” that U.S. troops would not encounter such difficulties, at least so soon.
“At the same time, there is a prevailing feeling of support for our troops,” he explained. “So there is a certain shock factor, combining with the medium of the Internet and the question of taste. More media, especially edgy media, always raises these questions.”
Peck compared the controversy to when Stephen Mindich, publisher of the alternative weekly Boston Phoenix, ran photos of the Daniel Pearl beheading.
Mindich decided to run photos of Pearl’s severed head hanging from the hand of his executioner. The on-line edition provided a link to a propaganda film of Pearl discussing his Jewish roots and U.S. policies, followed by disturbing images of his dismemberment.
Said Peck, “There was a tremendous furor when he chose to run the photos. He wanted people to understand this is an atrocity. He also felt it was an extreme example of anti-Semitism. So despite the Pearl family asking media to not release the photos, he decided the news value transcended other considerations.”
At the time, the Phoenix said: “This is about the public’s right to know and to witness for itself the terrible brutality of America’s enemies.”
Boston publisher weighs in
WorldNetDaily spoke with Mindich about the Yellow Times controversy.
“This was inevitable. … This debate is what needed to start to happen,” said Mindich. He added that he would have waited until the relatives of the victims were notified, but he would have run the photos himself.
When it comes to war, “American people need to know what is real,” said Mindich. “I believe just as with the Pearl case, it must be seen. ”
He added that the public is disserved when TV war coverage takes on the unreal quality of a video game, “an astonishingly well-produced video game.”
“I’m impressed with our military’s capabilities,” he said, “but we’re not understanding what really happens in war. The coverage is very anesthetic.”
Mindich faults big corporate media for allowing a few major media companies to make such critical decisions, then obediently following suit.
The editor also argues that such photographic coverage is not politically motivated and should not be manipulated to become so.
“Seeing reality could go either way politically,” he argues. “People for the war could see graphic photos of the POWs and say, ‘Let’s level Baghdad itself.’ On the other hand, such coverage could drive anti-war sentiment, resulting in people saying, ‘This is why we don’t belong here.’”
Ultimately, it’s not about serving a political side, says Mindich, “it’s about a service to the American public.”
Mindich called the shut down of Yellow Times “a pretty terrible thing to do,” but added that First Amendment rights and free speech rights pertain to the government not interfering with such, not a private corporation.
“As a private corporation, they do have a right to impose limits, as long as those limits do not violate other laws,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure YT has a legal case to make against them”
Portraying suffering on both sides
After the website shut down, Yellow Times reporter Firas Al-Atraqchi forwarded photos of Iraqi war casualties to WND. One photo, by an Iraqi female architect, shows a child being taken out of rubble by an older man. Her face is splattered with blood, and her lower legs have been blown off – only sticks of bone protrude. Another photo shows a young child with its brain and skull missing. The scalp flaps over the dark empty hole.
Al-Atraqchi has now written a column on the shut down of Yellow Times, a column not yet available to the public. In it he endeavors to explain his motivation to publish such photos:
“War is horrific, and to portray it otherwise speaks of corporate agenda.” he writes. “Nevertheless, I was tongue-tied at the MSNBC broadcast of a mother of one of the U.S. POWs as she shed tears for her son. It gripped me and moved me and, I wanted to cry with her. I also wanted to cry for the parents of the Iraqi civilian child, the top part of his skull torn off; an innocent child caught in a war he did not understand.
“So, here we have it – war affects us all. It affects Americans and Iraqis, as well as the rest of the world.”
He continued: “Here, at YellowTimes.org, we did not want these stories to go untold. We wanted to bring the horrors of war inflicted on all sides. We condemn killing, we condemn war, and we certainly condemn persecution and torture. We also condemn the intentional absence of truth.
“Someone wants you, the reading public, to only gather one-sided, monotone, Orwellian dispatch. News the way they ‘fashion’ it. Or as CNN will have you believe, the ‘most reliable source for news.’
“I do beg your pardon, no, we weren’t shut down – we were censored, pure and simple.”
Marquardt tells WND he now has swtiched to a hosting service based in San Francisco. Yellow Times will become available to different areas of the U.S. over the next 24-48 hours, as the name servers propagate through the Internet.