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Analyzing the AP's Pulitzer-winning photos

NOTE (added May 22): Welcome, Daily Kos readers! Really, I mean it. Thoughtful comments from any political perspective are always appreciated here.

NOTE: Welcome, LGF , Michelle Malkin, and Jawa Report readers! And thanks for the links, everybody. Also, please see the follow-ups at the end of this post.

Michelle Malkin links to this page displaying the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning photos for Breaking News Photography.

This year, the prize went to the Associated Press staff for, as the Pulitzer organization's site says, "its stunning series of photographs of bloody yearlong combat inside Iraqi cities."

I looked at the twenty photographs and broke them into groups on the basis of content. Here are my results:

       U.S. troops injured, dead, or mourning: 3
           (2, 3, 11)
       Iraqi civilians harmed by the war: 7
           (4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 18)
       Insurgents looking determined or deadly: 3
           (6, 15, 20)
       US troops looking overwhelmed or uncertain: 3
           (7, 12, 14)
       US troops controlling Iraqi prisoners: 2
           (16, 17)
       Iraqis celebrating attacks on US forces: 2
           (1, 19)

Equally telling is what the photos don't show:

       US forces looking heroic: 0
       US forces helping Iraqi civilians: 0
       Iraqis expressing support for US forces: 0
       Iraqis expressing opposition to insurgents: 0

Not only do the twenty photos consistently portray the American invasion and occupation of Iraq as an unmitigated disaster, but, as Michelle Malkin notes, at least one of them (number 20, depicting the insurgents' shocking execution of Iraqi election workers) has been exposed (by Powerline, Belmont Club, and others) as the result of at least some degree of coordination between the AP photographer and the insurgents themselves.

There hasn't been as disgraceful a Pulitzer Prize since NYT newsman Walter Duranty picked one up for sweeping Stalin's mass famines under the rug back in 1932. Shame on the Associated Press for its biased photojournalism, and shame on the Pulitzer Prize Board for "honoring" it.

In the comments, Dave Justus from Justus for All notes that some people are skeptical as to whether picture 20 was the result of coordination between the photographer and the insurgents. Regardless, it still depicts the war as an out-of-control disaster.

A number of people, on this site and others, have argued that photos 7 and 12 do not show U.S. troops looking "overwhelmed or uncertain". Perhaps a better description would have been U.S. troops "under attack by, or searching for, insurgents".

Other people have taken issue with my contention that none of the photos show U.S. troops "looking heroic". It should go without saying (but apparently it didn't) that I think the act of serving our country in Iraq is heroic in and of itself. A better description here might have been "U.S. troops on the offensive" — in other words, shown in the bold, almost romanticized way the insurgents are depicted in photos 6 and 15.

Even in battles where our troops suffered terrible losses, the AP's Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs weren't always so negative.


Anonymous said...

Gaijin Biker,

Good analyss! I perform a follow up and move your comment from the comments section to the general blog section.

Some time ago I started referring to the AP as Al-Pazeera, this pulitzer is why! 

Posted by Marcus Aurelius

Anonymous said...

I have seen some analysis that weakens the case for photo 20 being a result of 'coordination' as Belmont Club claimed. Here is a good example  of that.

I don't think that weakens your overall point however. 

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

Does the media loath the military or what! 

Posted by ice eater

Anonymous said...

Just a little more proof of how the MSM continues to hate America; as if Rathergate was not sufficient! 

Posted by Rod Stanton

Anonymous said...

Wow. Great post. But, not surpising at all.


That's a classic. 

Posted by gindy

Anonymous said...

Another category with 0 pictures in it: Iraqis Voting In Their First Free Election. Apparently the closest thing worth considering is the execution of poll workers. Thanks, AP. 

Posted by Ski

Anonymous said...

Great Post! You inspired my own post of the day and, I hope, that your analysis will help liberals understand their view of the war is informed by poor reporting.  

Posted by Harkonnendog

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your analysis, but IMHO pictures 7 and 12 do not show "US troops looking overwhelmed or uncertain". In picture 7 our troops look crafty, and in picture 12 our troops look like they have a sense of humor. 

Posted by Pete

Anonymous said...

Most of your analysis is nonsense. Sorry that you find it harmful to show American troops being wounded(2); dead American troops being mourned by their comrades (3,11); Iraqi Civilian dead and wounded, four of the seven photos say the dead are results of terrorist attacks; American troops do not look "overwhelmed" in photos 7 & 12, as Pete notes they are in 7 skillfully try to find a sniper and 12 have a sense of humor. Gee I am sorry that things do not look like some sort of John Wayne/Rambo movie, but (and I hope this does not shock you too much) REAL WAR IS NOT LIKE SOME SORT OF FLAG WAVING MACHO FANATSY! If that is what you are seeking, perhaps you should emigrate to Russian, where Bush Jr's Soul Mate, KGB Colonel Putin is in charge. If you want photos of heroic looking troops, grateful natives and dastardly terrorists, you will find them all in the Russian Media and you will scarcely hear any criticism of the proper authorities.  

Posted by David All

Anonymous said...

David All,

Thanks for reading my blog. It's always exciting to have passionate comments such as yours livening up the mix.

To take your points in order:

(1) It's not "harmful" to show American troops being wounded or mourned, but when that's all the media shows, it sends the false message that America is losing the fight against the insurgents.

(2) It doesn't matter whether the injured Iraqis shown were harmed by the insurgents' deliberate attacks or American accidental fire. The message these photos send is, "Innocent Iraqis are dying because of Bush's war".

(3) In picture 7, a U.S. troop is hiding from possible insurgent sniper fire. In 12, U.S. troops are shown wandering around unable to find the enemy, and depending on a doll for good luck. When you contrast 7 and 12 with the pictures of insurgents casting a steely-eyed gaze off into the distance, or launching lethal attacks, I think it is fair to infer that the U.S. troops at the very least are being shown as on the defensive, ineffectual, or frustrated, if not completely overwhelmed.

I don't want a state-run media, but neither do I want one that is promoting its own defeatist agenda. 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

You mention you were skeptical of coordination between the photographer and insurgents. Here are two more cases.

First, a confession from a photographer working for the terrorists in Iraq was videotaped by the Iraqi police. The video is on, a link to the transcript is below.

Second, there was another accusation by an Egyptian hostage who escaped from the terrorists who were holding him captive in Fallujah. He told reporters that a stringer for Al Jazeera filmed him prior to his expected execution.

Cooperating with terrorists to film hostage videos and wire footage/photographs was also rumored by the AFP on more than one occasion. I am sure the same cover story would be given, "they told us it would be a demonstration". The attack on the DHL plane was one.

Pardon my french, but bull****. And the worst of the Iraqi photos are recycled on Al Jazeera daily. If they dont have a photo of a dead woman or child after an attack, they use an old photo with the caption "many women and children have been killed under the American occupation." I have seen this several dozen times, so it must be AJ policy to do so.

This is a serious issue that the Pulitzer committee not only ignored, but celebrated in at least one instance. Embarassing for a news organization, but to single one of these photos for pulitzer honors? This should be a major story. 

Posted by Cog

Anonymous said...

Great Post GB. Glad to see you are getting so much attention from "the big blogs" and rightfully so. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Paul

Anonymous said...

Please add some more categories to what the pictures don't show:
The butchered bodies of Iraqis found in and around Fallujah, the victims of Zarqawi's zealots
-The dead women and children found in the mosques in Najaf, killed and left there by the Mahdi Army shortly before the seigeended for the purpose of framing the US military
-US civilian volunteers working in the Green zone for the Coalition Provisional Authority, sleeping on cots in hallways, donning flak jackets and carrying sidearms to meet with Democracy-seeking Iraqis
-Mass graves and the walking wounded: the mutilated victims of both Saddam's cruelty and the insurgents'.

Great post.

Posted by Quid

Anonymous said...

It is disgusting that you say our troops don't look heroic in those photos. You are unpatriotic and don't deserve to live in this great nation. 

Posted by Mike

Anonymous said...

Statistic on the Wining Cartoons of the Pulizer:

• U.S. troops injured, dead, or mourning: 3
• Iraqi civillians harmed by the war: 7
• Insurgents looking determined or deadly: 3
• US troops looking overwhelmed or uncertain: 3
• US troops controlling Iraqi prisoners: 2
• Iraqis celebrating attacks on US forces: 2


Yes Given that the dead ratio of Irakies:Amerikans is 20:1


Posted by davoud taghawi-nejad

Anonymous said...

Wow - you people are really jumping at shadows. You see the Liberal Boogie man in everything the press does.

Tell me how a photo of a soldier with a GI Joe on his back is anything but good old fashioned American Boys in action.

The sad thing is that it just boils down to you being a sucker. You've bought into the whole Rush Limbaugh doctrine because he's repeated it so many times.

He's actually got you people believing that a newspaper that tells THE TRUTH, is liberally biased. A photograph showing THE TRUTH is liberally biased.

If George Bush were caught on camera snorting coke off of Rick Santorum's naked chest - you'd call the cameraman liberally biased - you'd call the newspapers that reported it liberally biased.

It is amazing that so many people have bought into this. It's extraordinary actually if you think about it: They have a whole segment of the population that will ignore the truth because they no longer believe anyone except Fox news, Rush Limbaugh, NewsMax and Bill O'Reilly.

And those people are caught lying every single day. Not just biased -- LYING. Every single day.

There is a reason the University of Maryland study showed that Fox News viewers are the MOST WRONG about the issues, but at the same time feel MOST STRONGLY about them.

If you can't figure that out - keep up your Where's Waldo game of looking for the liberal boogieman in Pulitzer prize news photos. There's no hope for you anyway. 

Posted by Alison

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that sometimes reality doesn't look EXACTLY LIKE a Bush campaign commercial.  

Posted by Stephen

Anonymous said...

Cor blimey! You folks in Tokyo get all the news. Down here in Okazaki, we've only just learned about the invasion.
Interesting take on the winning pics and I do like the reference to Al Pazeera.
I think some interesting photos would have been of Iraq pre-invasion. One that still sticks out in my mind is of some Iraqi men playing chess in one of the coffee shops. It showed that life existed in Iraq.Yeah, Saddam was a bastard but so are lots of world 'leaders'. Bush included and many former US Presidents. Look at the covert wars in South America funded by administration after administration. And blah blah blah..what do I know. I'm just a teechur in China.
Ja ne and thanks for reading my blog.

Posted by FishOnly

Anonymous said...

Right on. Every picture points to them saying "I told you so".

Not one purple finger in the bunch. Perhaps the AP couldn't make it that day. 

Posted by Shelley

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. You only have to look at the selection of photos to understand the judges don't consider photos of successful American soldiers and civilians to be worthy.

I don't agree with your interpretation of 12 and 16, but these things are never entirely objective. Good work anyway.

As to several other posters on here... if you can't understand how these photos are effective propaganda, then I guess the propaganda has already had its effect on you. 

Posted by AL

Anonymous said...

How dare you! How can you say there are no pictures of American troops looking heroic? The medic pumping that young soldiers chest, trying desperately to save his life is certainly a hero. The soldier who died, was certainly a hero, Every single American soldier putting his or her life on the line every day is heroic. Your simple, paranoid minds cannot see past your hate to see the obvious points...War is ugly, frightening, and deadly. Our young people are over there living this truth. Kudos to the young man carrying a GI Joe doll, a connection to a life before the ravages of war became his daily experience. 

Posted by Monica

Anonymous said...

I certainly think picture 12 shows genuine American Heros.

Especially the action figure, they are in serious danger  over there.

I think it is fair to say, in balance, that these images protray a negative image of the war. In fairness to the AP though, bad news sells. It is in many ways more interesting than good news. Also, criticism that none of the pictures show the Iraqi elections is very unfair, as although they are the 2005 awards, they are for work published in 2004.

2004 was a tough year in Iraq. While there was certianly some good news, and a lot of progress there was also a lot of difficult times as well. I wouldn't be surprised if next year the images of Iraqi's with purple fingers or protesters in Lebanon are what we see. 

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

if you can't understand how these photos are effective propaganda, then I guess the propaganda has already had its effect on you. 

That is actually the sad point here, dopey. You are looking at ulfiltered photos of reality - and you call them propaganda -- when in fact, it is the very fact that they don't match up with the propaganda you have chosen to believe that "so many good things are happening over there" that you dismiss them.

You have been brainwashed into thinking what you see with your own eyes is a lie or distortion - and what Rush Limbaugh tells you is true.

I don't expect you to agree on this point, I just wish you would consider it. And maybe someday you will realize the harm that Rush Limbaugh has done to this country. 

Posted by alison

Anonymous said...

alison :

When you can point something out in the photos themselves, when you can offer a point of view other than the "Bush/Limbaugh/The-Camera-Never-Lies" rhetoric, you appear petty and contrarian not  illuminating and forthright. Regarding your closing point:

"And maybe someday you will realize the harm that Rush Limbaugh has done to this country."

Whah!!! That's so original! Please come back when you can argue your point on its' --admittedly flimsy -- merits.


Posted by Langtry

Anonymous said...

There's nothing I need to point out in the photos, I'm not the one searching for the liberal bias boogie man in them.

That's what is petty. Looking at the expression on a soldier's face and calling him "uncertain" or "overwhelmed" is petty. You insult the soldier in order to make your ridiculous point that the cameraman is biased.

And you can dismiss my statement as unoriginal - which is fine. The reason you've heard it before is because a lot of people believe it to be true.


Posted by alison

Anonymous said...


That's absurd. 'Analyzing' presupposes the application of thought upon something. In this case twenty photographs.

And thought is made conspicuous by it's absence in this piece on the AP Pulitzer winning photos.  

Posted by ArthurStone

Anonymous said...

"US forces looking heroic: 0"

This is simply stupid. Apparently, GaijinBiker wants every war memorial to look like the Iwo Jima memorial, and no war memorial to look like the Capitol's Grant memorial . Apparently, GaijinBiker believes that photographs of American soldiers without them wearing heroic capes and boots are unpatriotic.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Chickenhawk GaijinBiker: I'm a veteran, and the majority of pictures you link to are pictures of "US forces looking heroic." They're doing their job and doing it bravely and well. Maybe if you had the spine to join the military you'd understand that -- but you clearly don't.

You're a coward. 

Posted by Mike

Anonymous said...

Dear Mike,

I am sorry you felt insulted by my blog post, which was intended to express support for our troops, and not to slight them in any way.

Therefore, I find your personal insults directed at me to be unwarranted. Veterans like yourself, as well as members of our military currently serving in Iraq and elsewhere, have my complete respect for doing a dangerous job well.

That is why I think the AP and the Pulitzer board did our troops a disservice by honoring a group of pictures that, in my opinion, promote the view that America is failing in Iraq. I would have preferred more photos making it clear that our troops are, as you say, "doing their job and doing it bravely and well." I imagine many of our fighting men and women would want the same thing.

In hindsight, I realize my claim that none of the photos showed U.S. troops "looking heroic" was poorly phrased. You may be interested in the following, which I previously added to the original post, but you apparently did not read:

Other people have taken issue with my contention that none of the photos show U.S. troops "looking heroic". It should go without saying (but apparently it didn't) that I think the act of serving our country in Iraq is heroic in and of itself.  Perhaps a better description here would have been U.S. troops "on the offensive" — in other words, shown in the bold, almost romanticized way the insurgents are depicted in photos 6 and 15. 

I hope this makes it clear where I stand.

Best regards,

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Maybe I sound naive here- but I had never seen pictures like that in the media until now. Granted, I, like most typical highschool students, dont watch the news every morning. But when I do see the Iraqi war portrayed, its often in a heroic way. I'm not a silly liberal nor a rabid supporter of the Iraqi war, but still, I think its educating and informative to see all sides of the issue... 

Posted by Maia

Anonymous said...

Try mentally swapping the forces shown in the pictures (US with the enemy) and find out what your reaction is then. BTW: the Pulitzer submission deadline may be Feb. 1, making it difficult to submit (the awesome) photos from the Jan. 30 elections.  

Posted by SmilinJack

Anonymous said...

For those who disgruntled by the AP photographs, I would suggest that those individuals travel to Iraq (outside the military bases, of course) and take the pictures of scenes they believe are not been captured. 

Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Yeah, American newspapers hate the military. That's why not one of the AP photos was printed in any US newspaper - wouldn't want to resort to any negative propaganda now would we?

If anything, the government and the military in general is controlling what gets to the US public in the form of news from Iraq. Reminds me of how Communists like to run things.

I wouldn't expect a person living in Japan to understand that.

Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Only blind idiots would deny that the war is an unmitigated disaster. Blind patriotism is what led to Hitler's attack on the world. If we are to remain a free society, we should encourage blistering criticism of our leaders and their actions abroad. The war in Iraq will turn out to be a disaster greater in scale than Vietnam. Only blind ideologues such as yourself will deny it.

(ideologue - noun, an adherent of an ideology, esp. one who is uncompromising and dogmatic) 

Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

This war IS an unmitigated disaster.

Tens of thousands dead and maimed for life.
Less electricity than during sanctions [!].
More malnutrition that during sanctions [!].
Less oil pumped than during sanctions [!].
A guerrilla war (that was never supposed to happen) with no end in sight.
Bankrupting of the treasury to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. (Those 80 billion dollar "supplementals" sure do build up after a while).
No ties to Al Qaida.
Oh yeah - 8.8 billion dollars of CPA money missing 
Our strongest alliances in tatters, with new members of the "coalition" announcing their withdrawal every month.
The military missing its monthly recruiting goals by as much as 40% . . .
etc. etc.

I mean, you can paint as many schools as you fucking want - the benefits do not and cannot account for the staggering cost of this misadventure.

Chimpy and his pals should be impeached and tried for war crimes. Period. Leading this country into war on false pretenses should be enough to land his and Rumsfeld's asses (at the very least) in the docket. 

Posted by chuck

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm sorry. This war *is* a disaster - the pictures are accurate. Take the time to go over there and have a look if you really support it - but arguing over how photographs of real situations 'look' is ridiculous. They look like they were. 

Posted by Ben Schiendelman

Anonymous said...

Proof positive that we're losing the war: 

Hmmm - wonder who's going to fill the void here? The Iraqi security forces that disintigrate at the first sign of trouble?

This is just ridiculous. How can we claim to be there to protect the Iraqis when we retreat to 4 bases in the country?

Call it by name: R-E-T-R-E-A-T! 

Posted by chuck

Anonymous said...

I will read and respect your opinion of those photos, but as a medic myself I say to you sir, go pick up a weapon and try it out yourself. The same goes for all of you so called patriots that think this war is justified. Go pick up a damn weapon and relieve my fellow marines of their posts. 

Posted by dave

Anonymous said...

The pictures make me sad. They make me sad because of the death and destruction they show. They also make me sad because in every face of the beautiful soldiers and Iraqis I see, I am haunted by my memories. Memories of friends who served in The Nam.

One that haunts me most is a guy named Kingy.He went, he served valiantly and had the grisly pictures to show for it. He came back. He was still a big and handsome man, a magnet for women. Outside, he was full of bonhommerie. But there was the drinking. It always got worse. When he drank, eventually came the rage. Them more drinking.

He finally died in a snow drift, passed out.

He, like those soldiers in those pictures, don't deserve the baggage they will carry and the destructive urges that comes from that baggage, Like others their age, they should be worried about getting a grapefruit shooter muffler on their car or getting rid of that pesky virginity. Not what their eyes have indelibly seen. And will continue to see.

There is the crime and the sin of it all. The natural detritus of war. You see, you can gild it and dress it up, but one true thing remains: War sucks. It kills loudly and it kills on cat's paws, slowly and silently for many years afterward.

So everytime a jingoist gets all up in his testosterone, from the comfort of his barcolounger, I remember Kingy. He returned from war, but he never had a chance of surviving it.

And there is the truest cost. There are gonna be more Kingys. Know it. Is this price a bargain? 

Posted by T_Scheisskopf

Anonymous said...

Good agitation propaganda  against the AP. Classic 4GPS1:Horror Story / Moral Isolation move. 

Posted by Dan

Anonymous said...

Please keep in mind that the pictures selected were selected on their individual merits; i.e., the best ones were chosen. It seems unlikely that a checklist (such as yours) would be drawn up, and pictures would only be selected (by the AP or the Pulitzer committee) if they matched precisely. Is it possible that the AP and then the jury simply selected the pictures they thought were best, instead of just choosing pictures they didn't like as much but ones that had the characteristics that you sought?
As for the photographers, 5 of the 11 whose work is featured in the winning portfolio are Iraqi.
Take off the tinfoil, hat, my friend...


Posted by George C

Anonymous said...

Listen to the veterans who've posted above. War is NOT a pretty thing.

If you don't believe the war in Iraq is a mess and beyond our ability to control it, I don't think you're paying attention. We can't even control the road to the airport. As someone else already pointed out, we (U.S. troops) are holed up in a handful of positions, trying to keep from getting our asses shot off.

I grew up during Viet Nam. Every night I watched the news, complete with footage from the front and body counts. Every day we killed 3-4 times as many of the enemy as they killed of us. Guess what, in the end they kicked our ass. We lost. We lost the war and we lost tens of thousands of young American men.

The main reason we don't see all the video & photos of the war today that we saw during Viet Nam is that it made people angry. It made people question what we were doing there. People questioned whether it was worth the cost to keep some tiny little country on the other side of the world from having a communist government.

The current administration doesn't want that kind of trouble. It doesn't like being questioned. That's why they tightly control what journalists get to see and where they get to go. That's why they tried to prosecute a photographer for taking pictures of flag-draped coffins coming home. They don't want us to see the costs—to make the connections.

I find it interesting that some people want to blame the messengers for the message they bring. Do some journalists have an agenda? Of course. But most journalists are simply trying to report what they've seen. Their mission is to inform the public. And their lives are in every bit as much danger as the soldiers they follow.

A friend of mine was a photojournalist for Stars and Stripes during the Viet Nam war. Like most combat vets, he doesn't like to talk about what his eyes have seen. Like most, he feels fortunate to have lived through it and made it back home.

Al Qaida brought the war to our shores—they deserve to be hunted down and brought to whatever justice we can exact upon them. There was no connection between Al Qaida and Iraq. But we chose to take the war to Iraq—and they are exacting their revenge upon us. It's a mess. We brought it upon ourselves. And we will neither get out soon nor cleanly. 

Posted by Jim W

Anonymous said...

I would suggest you check this post: 

Posted by Jim W

Anonymous said...

Obviously interpretation and classification are subjective activities. The labels for your groups are inherently biased; of course you get the result you want. You classify 3 pictures as showing US troops "overwhelmed or uncertain" that simply show the realities of combat. Only #14 *might* be considered as not positive; but this is reality, not a John Wayne movie.

The media is *supposed* to be independant. They are largely reflecting the reality that the domestic press can't/won't. Guess what - US troops ARE being killed and wounded; Iraqi civilians ARE being harmed; the insurgents ARE determined and deadly; some Iraqis DO celebrate such attacks. I would also point out that in your group of "Iraqi civilians harmed", 4 of the 7 are *clearly* captioned to show that the harm was caused by insurgents.

You seem to think that the photojournalists should act as an extension of Fox News and the Pentagon and only show what the administration wants us to see. There is no need for balance here: lots of news stories and pictures are out there showing what you want to see. The whole point of these awards is to reward those who make the effort to show other points of view; so that the overall coverage is closer to the reality on the ground.

Thank you at least for having the decency to clarify the claims made by Powerline et al. However, it is not just a few people who are skeptical, and their opinions at least have some basis in fact. Powerline didn't "expose" anything, they jumped in and made unsupported claims. You simply refuse to believe that overall the war IS "an out-of-control disaster". The situation on the ground is not going to get magically better if more administration-friendly pictures are published.

Would I have liked to see pictures of Iraqi support for the US troops or pictures of US troops helping civilians? Yes. Are those events happening? I think they are. Are they being covered by the domestic media. Yes.

Don't attack the messenger just because you don't like the message. These things ARE happening; and these are the very reasons that most people see war as a last resort. Maybe we'd all sleep a bit better not knowing what's going on, but we shouldn't be allowed to - not when soldiers are dying on a daily basis in our names. 

Posted by Court Jester



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