How could such an important story get so buried by the mainstream media? Why does it take a scandal, such as the one the Washington Post reported on recently about conditions Walter Reed Army Medical Center to break through to the public?
Let's face it, pictures of a soldier having a leg amputated aren't as interesting as those showing the car bomb du jour in Baghdad. Pictures of a Marine learning how to walk again cannot compete with the seemingly endless stream of press conferences announcing the latest strategy for winning the war in Iraq. More than anything else, however, is the fact that pictures showing the consequences of the conflict gets personal. Every soldier has a story to tell that is unique and very personal. Ultimately, the stories soldiers have to tell reveal the disturbing and honest reality about the conflicts we find ourselves engaged in overseas.
To tell these stories accurately and honestly news organizations would have had to commit more resources than they normally would on what is typically considered human interest. However, there are exceptions such as Todd Heisler's Pulitzer Prize winning photo essay on a family's struggle to cope with the death of 2nd Lt. James Cathey or the essay by James Natchwey on soldiers recovering from injuries featured in Time magazine.
Part of the problem may be how news is categorized by news organization into what is perceived as either "hard" or "soft." The dichotomy between classifying news as more salient or relevant in terms of content becomes especially problematic in the case of the injured soldiers story.
Showing how the lives of thousands of injured Americans are dramatically changed by war challenges our preconceptions of what news is.
In other words, it appears that the mainstream media doesn't get behind a story like this one until there is critical mass. This gets back to the criticism that the media may not tell us what to think, but they do tell us what to think about.
How the injured soldiers story has been typically framed for us as a human interest story rather than as a "hard" news issue, until now, suggests a form of agenda setting. For example, look how long it took for Americans to see images of the flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq. Clearly, there is are ideological interests involved in keeping Americans in denial about the very real costs of war. Pictures of injured soldiers does little to promote a war-time mentality, because they speak truth to power as well as challenge the logic and intelligence of our foreign policy makers.
There is a dramatic difference between what is perceived as "front" and "back" stage news stories. In society today, it is easy to miss all of the backstage stories associated with the conflict in Iraq since so much press attention seems to focus how a political administration reacts to specific developments and events from day to day. In many ways, evaluating how the media uses images from Iraq is like watching a football game on television.
In summary, what we too often see in visual reportage today is the "effect" without understanding the "cause."