From The Press Indeed
An Open Letter to Mr. Frank Rich,
Columnist, The New York Times
by Nubar Alexanian
Dear Mr. Rich:
I always look forward to reading your column and cannot, for the life
of me, understand why other journalists seem so unwilling or unable
to press important issues as directly as you do. Your column is regularly
steeped in facts (along with an attitude) that are helpful to many
of us who are trying to make sense of the world we live in.
Where I live, far from the power centers of New York and Washington,
whenever your column appears on the editorial page of the New York
Times, there's always a flurry of voice and email messages in my neighborhood
and among my colleagues around the country. The messages are always
the same: "Don't miss Frank Rich today." Yours is a powerful
and effective voice in the world.
With this in mind, I'd like to bring your attention to last Sunday's
editorial page of your newspaper (3/02/02), specifically to the advertisement
purchased by The American Jewish Committee. I mention this because,
as you will see, not only do I believe this kind of advertisement
compromises your important work, but, in the end, endangers the lives
of journalists working in the field. As a photojournalist who has
worked all over the world, from Peru to Jerusalem, I am concerned
that this advertisement may have put a brave young photographer in
jeopardy. I believe that you, as someone who has eloquently defended
journalists doing their jobs in far-off places - be they Danny Pearl
or anyone else - will share this concern. I've attached two photographs
to this document.
Let's look at the first photograph that accompanied The American Jewish
Committee's advertisement. After making an understandable case against
suicide bombers, the advertisement closes by saying: "Take another
look at the picture. Which of the masked suicide bombers is the father,
and what kind of future is he planning for his son." For their
purposes, the photograph is highly effective. It is ominous and frightening.
It's also a lie.
becomes clear in the second photograph, which was not published, but
was readily available at GettyNewsImages.com. It's tragic enough that
Palestinian children dress up like suicide bombers much the same way
that children in the US dress up like firemen (which I believe is
the real intent of the photographer.) But there are no fathers indoctrinating
sons here. And this is not a terrorist training camp. They are not
wearing real bombs, nor are they holding real weapons. The captions
that accompany each of these photographs on the Getty site make all
of this perfectly clear. These are children living in a refugee camp
who just finished marching in a small parade in support of Hamas in
December, 2001. Frightening, yes. But terrorists, no!
Please understand that I'm not taking sides in the Middle East conflict
here. Rather, I'm deeply troubled by the collapse of journalistic
standards which not only misinform but can create serious potential
What about the photographer? Here we have a young, smart, hungry photojournalist,
working in the Middle East who has worked hard over time to gain the
trust of Hamas and Hizbollah. Based in Beirut and paying her dues
every day in the field, she has used her access time and again to
shoot pictures for publications like the New York Times and her agency,
Getty Images. If Danny Pearl was believed to be a spy by his captors,
what do you think Hamas and Hizbollah think about Courtney Kealy after
Not only was her name displayed prominently next to the image, identifying
her as the photographer for the world to see, but her photograph was
used, not toward journalistic ends, but as propaganda for one side
against the other in an already inflamed conflict. And this, on the
editorial page of the newspaper of record around the world! Can anyone
at the Times explain this? Perhaps the American Jewish Committee or
Getty Images has an explanation. I'm anxious to hear it, because a
simple apology will not do. This courageous young woman and everything
she has worked for has already been compromised.
Who would be to blame if something terrible happened to Courtney Kealy?
Would Getty Images be to blame for selling a documentary photograph
used as propaganda and allowing the use of the photographer's name?
Would the New York Times accept any responsibility for allowing this
kind of unexamined propaganda on its editorial page? What about the
American Jewish Committee?
So why am I writing an open letter to you, Mr. Rich? Because I hope
you will raise this issue with your colleagues and that a public discussion
will engage picture agencies and editors alike to make sure this never
happens again. You've written very eloquently about Danny Pearl, honoring
his courage and integrity as a journalist. How ironic that the very
next day your very words were undermined on the same page. Let's not
put another journalist further in harm's way than her work already
There is no acceptable solution to the problem already created here.
Only a lesson or two about truth, integrity, honesty and maintaining
the highest achievable standards in journalism.