Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Which one is the pornographer? "Apparently us."

Which one is the pornographer? Tim Grieve, who often writes and edits the War Room column/blog at does so in an intelligent and thoughtful way. His voice is distinctive-- and while this blogger does not think well of most blogging-- I read Grieve not only for his links, but for his critical analysis of the media he covers.

In a post today, entitled, "Which one is the pornographer?", Grieve writes:

We're all for finding creative ways to support the troops in Iraq. Bringing them home, sooner rather than later, sits right up at the top of our list. But as Andrew Sullivan notes, the folks at a Web site called Now That's F------ Up have another idea: They're offering U.S. troops free access to amateur porn in exchange for soldiers' photos from the war.
We checked out the site this morning. Some of the photos we saw there were about what you'd expect to see: Soldiers goofing off and looking tough with their guns; troops hanging out pool side at the former home of Uday Hussein; a soldier standing with an Iraqi kid.
But then there was the section called "gory." It's not the only place on the Web to see gruesome images from Iraq; a lot of sites offer pictures posted by soldiers, and Salon itself recently ran a gallery of grim shots from photojournalists in Iraq. The photographs in that gallery were graphic and disturbing, but -- in our minds, at least -- categorically different from the close-up, gore-for-gore's-sake photos of body parts posted at Now That's F----- Up. And Salon ran the photos alongside an essay on the ways in which the government has kept the horrors of war hidden from its citizens. NTFU offers a picture depicting what's left of the head of a man shot with a .50-caliber weapon next to the words "I'm just here to masturbate" and above an ad for a Web site offering video of a mother and her daughter in a three-way sex act.
You can see that one here, if you must, but you ought to think twice before clicking through. There are simply no words adequate to describe the awfulness of what you'd see.
Obviously, this is a legitimate story for Grieve to cover, which he did with some taste and good judgment. The same can't be said for Salon's editor Joan Walsh. She ran the item as the cover story this morning on along with an extraordinarily lurid picture on the cover as well. Perhaps it was a slow news day. Perhaps her readers have read too much of late about the John Roberts hearing, the bureaucratic bungling at FEMA, or the war in Iraq. Perhaps Sidney Blumenthal had the day off.

Or perhaps there is another explanation for her news judgment: The words "Porn" and the tasteless picture atop the webzine this morning has everything to do with attracting unique visitors, causing a sensation, and profit motive.

The placement of Tim Grieve's otherwise legitimate news item as the cover of Salon this morning was nothing less than an exploitation of American troops in harm's way. It was also a further exploitation of many of the women who were exploited in the first place on the pornographic website described in the War Room posting.

The play of the story has also generated some controversy of sorts within Salon's offices, including emails circulated among staffers and editors of the magazine, some of which have been forwarded here.

One Salon staffer told me today that the prominent display of the story reflected editor Joan Walsh's predisposed belief that "anyone in the military is a violent killer who in their spare time surfs for pornography over the Internet. She doesn't believe that some in the military actually be that they are serving their country or have solid family lives. This plays to her stereotype of someone who serves" in the military.

The same staffer said in an email to others at the magazine: "I don't know what is gained here, except we are driving traffic to a website that traffics in violent and pornographic images. Andrew Sullivan did exactly that, when he wrote about... and linked to them. It raises the obvious question as to whether we are doing the same, and why we are doing so."

One thing that might be gained, obviously, is that the prominent play of the story-- with Salon's own links to such violent and pornographic images-- also drives traffic to Salon itself.

Walsh declined to comment for this post via an email inquiry.

For his part, Grieve included much nuance in his column, noting, for example, that "even some of the site's customers seem to have qualms about what's going on there." And Salon's Mark Benjamin has displayed great enterprise in his writing and reporting about the woes of Gulf War vets.

But the play of this particular story led one of Salon's own editors this morning to circulate an email this morning to other Salon editors, staffers, and contributors (one of whom, again, was kind enough to send it along to me), asking: "Which one is the pornographer? Apparently us."

Update and correction, 3:05 EST, May 18, 2006: In the original of this post, we misspelled Tim Grieve's name, referring to him once as Tom Grieve. The post has been now been changed. We apologize to Tim.

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