Editor’s Note: FOUR YEARS AGO, MRS. BENAZIR BHUTTO WAS MURDERED. Who was the Man in the Brown Jacket? Newspapers around the world featured an emotional man in a brown jacket walking among the splattered human remains in the aftermath of the suicide bomb and gun fire that took her life and the lives of twenty-four other people.The photo captions speculated that he was a Bhutto follower, but the journalists present at the assassination scene never asked him his name. The grisly images on the Associated Press website have incorrect time stamps. Why? Our six-part special investigation, to be published during the weeklong anniversary of Mrs. Bhutto’s death, explores these questions and more.
Photojournalism, at its best, humanizes victims of disasters and conflict zones for American audiences.
Yet the opposite can also be true. American photojournalism can also be lurid and sensational in its foreign coverage and, in the process, dehumanize its subjects.
Indeed, a seldom discussed, deep and troubling ethical double standard exists regarding who has the right to dignity in news photography.
In no instance that we could find were Americans in domestic disasters or conflicts depicted with their legs and arms strewn about or their limbless torsos tossed by explosions, as Pakistanis were depicted in the photo coverage of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Islamabad, Pakistan, on December 27, 2007.
Nameless Brown Jacket Man: Icon of Grief
A Pakistani man wearing a brown jacket could be seen in many of the photographs of the carnage following the explosions and gun fire that killed Mrs. Bhutto
The New York Times’ photo coverage of the Bhutto crime scene—splashed in blood and gore and carried above the fold on the front page—featured this nameless, emotional man among others who quietly walked around the tossed motorcycle, blown up vehicles and dead and dying.