Pimping Death

Pasadena Weekly | October 7, 2005
In America, perhaps our biggest social taboos are sex and death.

Images of both collide at www.nowthatsfuckedup.com, a pornographic Web site where American soldiers are allegedly posting truly disturbing images of Iraq war dead in exchange for free access to amateur pornography.

Posted under “guess this body part,” the naked body of a man lies mangled and bloody in the street, an arm completely severed. Related photos show scattered pieces of bodies. Under “a friendly terrorist bake” you can see what appears to be a man’s face rotting in a plastic bucket and a charred body with the face apparently burnt off. “Gotta respect the headshot” shows a man with his face torn in half. Under “nice puss/bad foot,” you can see an unidentified person holding up a woman’s severed leg exposing her naked vagina.

Public users of the Web site have to pay to see posts like “all new close-ups of my wife,” but this all-too-horrifying pornography of war is free for anyone to view.

While Americans have thousands of television and print outlets to choose from, some are asking why we have to visit a porno site to see — from true images of the carnage to how many soldiers really feel about the killing — what’s really going on in Iraq. Only a handful of media outlets, including the East Bay Express and Salon.com, have recently carried stories about the site and military investigations related to it.

“The fact that this is happening clearly is news, and I think you get an image of what the Iraq occupation really is about — not a complete picture, but an aspect of the occupation that does not ordinarily get into the pages of the New York Times or that you would see on CNN,” said Jim Naureckas, a member of the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

“The fact that you see this sort of ghoulish glee in human carnage on the part of the people who are supposedly in Iraq to bring liberation and democracy, it’s quite revealing,” he said. “It is certainly jarring to see the graphic images of the consequence of what your country has done.”

Meanwhile, military officials have already cut off access to the site from government computers and are currently conducting a criminal investigation targeting soldiers who make such posts.

“Obviously, we don’t condone that kind of site. They are disgusting images. It’s disgraceful that they’re on the Web. But we don’t know if the images are genuine or where or when they were posted,” said Major Flora Lee, a spokesperson at the military’s Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad.

“The images, they’re not in keeping with our standards. If a service member is proved to be involved he will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” she said, adding that preliminary investigations have so far failed to turn up evidence of any felonies.

Site administrator Chris Wilson did not return requests for comment, but wrote in a recent post that it would be wrong not to post such images.

“Such whitewashing of the truth is at odds with the First Amendment freedoms that this country enjoys. These soldiers fought to preserve our freedoms, and the truth has a way of coming out,” he wrote.

USC Journalism Professor Bryce Nelson, a noted scholar and award-winning daily newspaper reporter, said media reluctance to rush to publish such a story may have to do with the mixing of the taboo topics it deals with: sex and death.

Also, “Conventional media has a real aversion to running grotesque photos,” he said. “But that’s not to say conventional media wouldn’t cover such a story eventually — partly they need some verification. Who knows what those photos really are?”

Ben Bagdikian, author of “The Media Monopoly,” a book detailing the consolidation of media ownership into fewer hands, said decisions about running gory photos hasn’t much to do with media consolidation other than that fewer people are making those decisions.

But not everyone agrees about what to do with nowthatsfuckedup.com.

“It gets at the issue of judgment and what’s appropriate to put out for general consumption in the airwaves or in print that any child can pick up and see,” said Amy Mitchell, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism a nonprofit funded by the Pew Charitable Trust. Formerly a research associate at the staunchly conservative American Enterprise Institute, Mitchell said equating decisions about covering such images with political impact is simply “jumping to conclusions.”

Then again, “There’s no question the news media has been engaged in stringent self censorship,” said Jeff Chester, head of the Washington DC–based Center for Digital Democracy. “When they run a figure, we aren’t really seeing what that means. They [government officials and a complicit press] have sanitized this war because they know if they show human suffering, including the suffering of the US military, support for the war will decline even more rapidly.”

Pasadena Weekly

For more than 20 years the Pasadena Weekly has reigned as the San Gabriel Valley's newsweekly of record. Located just minutes from Downtown Los Angeles, the city of Pasadena is perhaps best known nationally for a certain flower-oriented parade and...
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