The attacks on Shiite Muslim gatherings in Afghanistan, which killed at least 59 people Tuesday, were shocking. So was the image of the aftermath, which ran on Wednesday’s front page.
Several readers said they were disturbed by the photo of a blood-spattered young woman, screaming as she finds herself surrounded by bodies. Moments earlier she had been part of a procession to a Kabul shrine to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura. Times reporters said a suicide bomber hid among the crowd of worshippers. Many of the victims were women and children.
“I can’t believe that you would put a photo like this in your paper, let alone on the front page,” wrote Louis Cunningham of Ventura. “Yes, this goes on, and we know it. But we don’t need it on the front page of a paper for all of the kids in the world to see.”
Erlin France of Los Angeles wrote: “That’s the way to go, L.A. Times: Put dead children on the front page. You are disgusting.”
And Rolando Valdovinos of East Los Angeles said he found the image “extremely graphic.” “Showing kids laying lifeless is uncalled for,” he wrote. “Just take a couple of seconds to stare at that photograph yourself. Tell me the lifeless image of the toddler in yellow doesn’t sicken your stomach!”
The scene was difficult for AFP/Getty photographer Massoud Hossaini as well. He told the New York Times, which also ran the image on its front page, that he realized he was weeping as he took photos after the suicide bombing. He said he continued to cry as he drove to his office, as he transmitted the images and as he drove home. “I have never experienced that before,” he told the New York Times’ Lens blog.
Deputy Managing Editor Colin Crawford, who oversees the Los Angeles Times’ photography staff, responds:
We never run this type of image without discussions at the highest levels in the newsroom.
We understand that it is a tough image to look at, but we felt the news value of the photo made it worth publishing. We feel that we cannot hide important news from our readers, even when it is unpleasant.
The war in Afghanistan is an important and complicated story, and the violence seems to never end. In these attacks, the fact that it was sectarian violence adds yet another layer to the complexity of the situation.
The photo, while gut-wrenching, shows just how many innocents are being killed. The bodies of dead, maimed and wounded children breaks your heart but also lets you know how indiscriminate the killing has become.
This column was originally published on LATimes.com on Dec. 8, 2011.