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Dallas Morning News Defends Decision to Run Decapitation Photo

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Keven Ann Willey, Vice President and Editorial Page Editor, Dallas Morning News: We did our best to find a way to publish the photo in as non a gruesome a way as possible. So what you actually see is the Al Qaeda terrorist holding up his arm, and then we have blacked out not just blurred, and not just digitized. But we have totally blacked out the image and the shape of what he's holding.

Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter: Is it standard operating procedure to run photographs in support of editorials?

Willey: Oh, anybody who reads our editorial page realizes that we quite commonly run photos. We run graphs, we run charts, we run logos. Not a day goes by on the editorial page that we generally don't have a photo or another piece of art with an editorial, but the point being to help add clarity to the editorial for the reader

Cuellar: Since the most graphic part of the image is blacked out, why is it necessary to publish that for people to understand who the enemy is?

Willey: Because it is an image of reality. I guess I would just go back to what I said before. It's important for Americans to understand what's happening and the more information we can provide, again in as non-gruesome presentation as possible, the better off the American people are. And I guess I would add that by publishing this we in no way wish to undermine the appropriate outrage that has been expressed with regard to the U.S. guards who have abused prisoners in Iraq.

Cuellar: What debate did you have internally about whether or not to run the photo, and where to run the photo?

Willey: We had actually two levels of debate. The editorial board spent a good portion of its morning meeting arguing whether to publish or not to publish the photo and there were lots of opinions on both sides. This was not a unanimous decision by any stretch. And then there was a second level of debate later and that was if we choose to run this photo, how do we run it? Nobody was proposing that we run the photo unedited. I mean, it's just too gory to have any reasoned purpose.

Cuellar: The Council on American-Islamic Relations is afraid all inflammatory images, including Abu Ghraib prison and U.S. casualties, will endanger Arabs and Muslims locally. Did that factor into your decision?

Willey: It did in that we were very careful in this editorial to make it specific to Al Qaeda. This is not an editorial about Islam. This is not an editorial about Iraqis. This is an editorial about a terrorist organization called Al Qaeda which has demonstrated beyond any doubt its willingness, in fact its eagerness to take innocent lives.

Cuellar: What reaction have you gotten?

Willey: All over the map. Our own mail here, just today we've received 150 or more letters to the editor, not about our decision per se but about in general, the media either should or shouldn't publish the Nick Berg photo and a slight majority seems to favor publishing some version, an edited version of this photo, but it is a very close debate.

Cuellar: Are other daily newspapers following your lead?

Willey: Not to my knowledge. I don't know of any other paper that has published this.

Cuellar: Kevin Ann Willey, thank you for your time.

Willey: Thank you.


90.1's Catherine Cuellar spoke with the Dallas Morning News Editorial Editor, Kevin Ann Willey.

Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.