A Request from the Bernards

A week later on Monday, August 24, the Bernard family buried Joshua near his home in rural Maine. A few days later , AP reporter Glenn Adams went to visit and interview Joshuas parents, John and Sharon. Adams had also, on instructions from editors, brought with him the photograph of Bernards final moments. It was unusual for AP to show photos to affected parties before publication, but Carroll felt strongly that the Bernards should know beforehand that AP was considering publishing a photo of their son after he was mortally wounded. She made it clear, however, that the purpose of showing the photo to the Bernards was not to secure permission for publication. She explains:

We hadnt made a final decision yet because we wanted to get all the information We certainly didnt want them to know about the picture or see it for the first time when it was published. We felt it was a courtesy to them and allowed them to have a lot of what were clearly going to be strong reactions in private [but] I would be abdicating my responsibility if I asked them permission.

Listen to Carroll discuss sympathy and not asking permission.

Bernards parents did not immediately raise objections to the photograph. Days later, however, John Bernard, himself a former Marine first sergeant and Gulf War veteran, called Adams to request that AP not distribute the photo. Doing so, he said, would cause his family additional anguish. Adams conveyed the objection to Daniszewski.

He, Carroll, and several other editorsincluding Photo Director Lyon, who had returned to New York on August 25 after photographer Morenatti had been stabilizeddiscussed the Bernard familys objections to the photo. On the one hand, many of the editors were themselves parents, including Carroll; they were sensitive to the fact that the Bernard family was undergoing, in Carrolls words, one of the worst possible times in their existence on the planet. But in their view, Bernards death was not only a private family tragedy. Carroll reasoned:

War is a public act. And this young man was acting on behalf of the government that he represented and the people that government represents, its a very public act, and youd like dying to be a private act, but it isnt in wartime.

But there were other reasons to refrain from distributing the photo. Doing so over the familys objections could jeopardize APs relationship to the military and by extension its ability to secure DoD permission for embeds, which had become a crucial tool in its coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan. Did the AP risk depriving itself of access to two of its most important coverage areas?

The decision Carroll faced was ultimately not whether to publish the photo in a newspaper or onlinethat decision belonged to editors at APs hundreds of member news organizations. Carroll had to decide whether to give them the option.

By Thursday morning, September 3, editors had assembled a multimedia package of several elements to tell the story of the August 14 firefight in which Lance Corporal Bernard had lost his life. It included a slideshow of the days events, narrated by Jacobson; a written account by Jacobson, de Montesquiou, and Glenn describing the days battle and Bernards life; excerpts from Jacobsons journal; and a detailed explanation of how AP had reached the decision to publish the photograph of the mortally wounded Bernard. AP planned to distribute it that morning to news organizations with an embargo against publication until the next day, Friday, September 4. Carroll wanted to be sure news organizations had ample time to consider whether and how to use the package. News organizations would have the option of using any part of it while omitting the controversial image of Bernard.

About an hour before distributing the package, AP sent it to the Defense Department. Carroll again made it clear that the AP was not asking permission to distribute the Bernard photograph, but was instead giving the department advance warning of material that might become controversial. By 10 a.m., the package was in the hands of APs members.