October 16, 2012

WAPO Home Page: How is Editorial Slideshow Anything But US Marine Product Placement?

Over the years, I’ve written about the media compromising its independence and integrity by illustrating war reporting with images taken by military photographers. At other times, I’ve focused on how much the military, the glorification of militarism, and military boosterism has pervaded the media.

I don’t see any other way to look at Monday’s front page feature and inside slide show at WAPO as anything but a free product placement for the Marines. Prompted by the upcoming “Marine Corps Marathon” in D.C., an offshoot of the military’s brilliant and now institutionalized Fleet Week marketing/recruiting/public outreach program, here’s the copy leading the slideshow:

Oorah! U.S. Marines in action : “Oorah’’ is defined as a sign of enthusiasm, an effusive response to an order, akin to the Army’s “hooah!” or the Navy’s “hooyah!” Here are photos from the U.S. Marine Corp’s Flickr feed of Marines in action around the world. You’ll see an influx of Marines later this month for the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 28.

With 26 photos taken by “I lost count how many” military photographers, the photos plucked from the Marine’s Flickr site, this is nothing but free advertising — and, not to mention, free content and click bait — for WAPO.  I love that caption on that second photo, by the way: “Could you please align?’

Since WAPO gave this imagery the exposure, it’s worth taking a moment to illustrate, in a few few example, how these simplistic propaganda photos contrast from editorial images.  The photo in the pool, for example, reframes the cost of war and the catastrophe of traumatic injury by appealing to the American sense of “can do,” aligning our sympathy behind the will of these soldiers to become championship disabled-athletes.

Color is visceral and entrancing, and let’s face it, there’s a huge disconnect between the adrenaline rush of (photos of) weapons and bombs and and everything that comes next.

Titling this photo “Toy Story,” as a representation of the war in Afghanistan, is about all you need to know. And, with that spot of primary color and the two figures romatically framed against the endless road, isn’t there something so innocent about a red ball?

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington did portrait after portrait of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan sleeping like babes, his imagery challenging us to contemplate just how innocent our soldiers, and their mission, happened to be. If this photo riffs on Tim’s work, it does it without the irony. (And that’s not even mentioning the dog, or the fact that “what I really got from Washington” was this Redskin blanket.)


(photo 1: Sgt. Mark Fayloga / U.S. Marines caption: Wounded Warriors: French Staff Sgts. Jocelyn Truchet and Erwan Camel, Wounded Warriors with the Allies Team, rest on the pool wall and listen to the instruction of Coach Shiela Taormina, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist, during practice for the 2012 Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15. Wounded Warrior Marines, veterans and allies competed in the second annual trials, which included swimming, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, track and field, archery and shooting.photo 2: Gunnery Sgt. Michael K. Kropiewnicki / U.S. Marines caption: BOOM! A Marine assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit fires an AT-4 light anti-armor weapon during an exercise at Fort Pickett, Va., on Sept. 17. photo 3: Cpl. Reece Lodder-U.S. Marines caption: Marine Lance Cpl. Tom Morton, 23, of Nashville, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, hands an Afghan child a toy during a security patrol in Afghanistan on Feb. 25. photo 4: Cpl. Reece Lodder/U.S. Marines caption: Let sleeping dogs lie: Marine Lance Cpls. Matthew Scofield, 19, from Syracuse, N.Y., and Jarrett Hatley, 21, from Millingport, N.C., rest next to Hatley’s dog, Blue, after clearing compounds with Afghan National Army soldiers on Jan. 4.)

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Michael Shaw
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