In the eight newspapers and magazines they surveyed during a six-month period of heavy fighting, there was only one picture of a dead American soldier (a photo of a covered body printed by the Seattle Times). On average, the newspapers printed a picture of a wounded soldier approximately once a month.
The Iraqi side was quite different: all the newspapers and magazines printed large numbers of photos of Iraqi dead and wounded.
The editors interviewed for the story said that access was one reason for the disparity: there aren’t that many photographers in Iraq and it’s unusual for one to be around when an American unit is attacked. But they also made it clear that public reaction was intensely negative on the occasions when they did print pictures of dead or wounded U.S. soldiers.
What to think? In the end, the stats are provocative but not really conclusive. The newspapers all published lots of photos of grieving soldiers as well as photos of carnage among Iraqis, which probably conveys the reality of war pretty adequately. The only real surprise, I thought, was the small number of photos of any kind published by the weekly newsmagazines, which are much more dependent on graphic content than newspapers. Counting all types of death-related photos of both Iraqis and Americans, Time published one photo every other issue and Newsweek published one photo every fourth issue. That’s surprisingly sparse coverage.
UPDATE: APME conducted a survey of editors and readers on the subject of graphic photos a few months ago, and Ryan Pitts summarizes the results here. Nickel version: In all cases, editors were more likely to think disturbing photos should be published than readers were, but only by a small margin. Ryan includes links to the original survey in his post.