NPR at Odds with the White House on Bin Laden Death Photo

Executive editor Dick Meyer says "it's hard to see any reasons" not to publish it

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One of the White House's stated reasons for withholding Osama bin Laden's death photo is the "gruesome" and "graphic" nature of the image. It's clear, however, that the White House has not convinced National Public Radio, which is drafting a Freedom of Information Act request for the images and video captured during the raid of bin Laden's compound.

"At this point, it's hard to see any of [Obama's] reasons trumping the public's right to see it and the press's right to publish it," said Dick Meyer, the executive editor of National Public Radio, in an interview with The Atlantic Wire.

Meyer said he sympathized with the president's decision, saying NPR isn't "at all dismissive" of the Obama administration's rationale and he doesn't guarantee the organization would publish the photographs or videos if it obtained them. A call from the president, for example, could give the radio network pause, Meyer said. Still, he shot down a number of reasons the White House has given for withholding the materials.

"If the pictures were grotesque because they showed a body shot multiple times, that would also have news value wouldn't it? That would inform us about what happened in the mission," Meyer said. "I can't imagine that trumping the news value of the image."
"The government could make the argument that releasing the photo could inflame jihadist communities in a way that's unwise," he began. "But I think that journalists should be standing for transparency and releasing the information. Those are the values that have held our system of government in good stead for a very long time."
One potential reason he foresaw for withholding a photograph would be if one of the Navy SEALs involved in the operation was identifiable. But if that were the case, a news organization could easily blur out the identifying details before publication.
NPR began drafting its FOIA request on Tuesday, following calls by The Associated Press and a handful of other organizations.  "The items have obvious news value and obvious historic value," Meyer said. "I can't imagine a news organization that wouldn't feel a duty to get at these materials."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.