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November 16, 2004

I’ll See Your Marlboro Man, And I’ll Raise You One

Here’s an update on the LA Times pr campaign to turn an unwilling Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller into a poster boy (see previous post).

In a defensive action this past weekend, the NYTimes responded by offering up their own cigarette smoking GI (Lance Cpl. Michael Pristavec, below). Aware of the advanced hype for Miller, however, it appears the NYT was more likely trying to “flood the zone,” actually casting multiple smoking GI’s into the mix (perhaps hoping to dilute the impact of the original LATimes picture).

The following shots ran on the cover of the NYTimes on Saturday. (The part of the photo showing the silhouetted smoker only appeared on the NYT web site.)

marlboroNYT1
(identified as) Lance Cpl. Michael Pristavec

marboroNTY2
Lance Cpl. Michael Oliver Ray

On the network front, in another attempt to bootstrap off the Miller picture (this is why I avoid the network news), Dan Rather interviewed the soldier’s mother last Monday night. (She was also on the CBS Morning Show today.) The title of their web story is classic. It reads: “Mom Wants Icon Son To Return Safe.” (When was the last time an icon needed to be so labeled?)

I have to reproduce Dan Rather’s comments for you. I offer them not just because they are so sacchrine, but because they demonstrate how Rather (in the name of the network) has laid personal claim to James Blake. Remember, this is a kid who is clearly feeling exploited by the attention. Says Rather:

“For me, this one’s personal. The picture. Did you see it? The best war photograph of recent years is in many newspapers today. Front page in some. Taken by Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times, it is this close-up of a U.S. Marine on the front lines of Fallujah.

He is tired, dirty and bloodied, dragging on that cigarette, eyes narrowed and alert. Not with the thousand-yard stare of a dazed infantryman so familiar to all who have seen combat, first hand, up close. No. This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger.

See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride.

And if your eyes don’t dampen, you’re a better man or woman than I. Where such men come from and what will happen to our country when they cease to come, we can wonder with worry. But for now, we have them, and they are there in that brown hell known as Iraq.”

The Morality Issue

Besides the clear example of a news organization attempting to exploit a combat soldier (the media’s form of war profiteering), I was also interested in the impression of these photos in light of the current discussion about “moral values.”

Beyond the manipulation of James Miller, these pictures could easily be seen to suggest other issues, for example, the impact of battle stress, the hazards of smoking, or even the romanticization of war. (Isn’t it weird we get these “dreamy” shots of our boys in place of more realistic images of what they’re doing in and to Fallouja when they aren’t puffing away?)

In light of the election, there has been a good deal of discussion about the right wing and it’s clever appropriation of the “morality” theme. One of the organizations looking at how the right wing has integrated the concept is the Rockridge Institute (website). Besides decoding and deconstructing right wing talking points, Rockridge is also looking at what they call the new “right wing permissiveness.” The basic idea is that the conservative’s reliance on a “higher authority” actually overrides the need for moral judgment.

What is interesting (to me, at least) is how easy it is to take these images at face value. In the terms of a conservative mindset (which, many argue, has become the underlying framework for cultural thinking), America’s involvement in Iraq has become accepted without question as serving a “higher authority” (or, translated into secular terms, the “greater good”). Writing for Rockridge, Fred Block explains that, in seeking this “higher” goal, however, we have been conditioned to overlook or excuse any morally questionable behavior that happens along the way. (That’s why the conservatives were able to dismiss Abu Ghraib, for example.)

Given this mentality, one can look at these images and barely see them at all. You don’t see the fear. You don’t see the exhaustion. You don’t see the addiction. You just see how cool these guys are, taking a welcome break before resuming the march to democracy.

(photos: Ashley Gilbertson — New York Times)

  • http://theriverblog.blogspot.com Bruce

    I thought it strange that Ann Garrels mentioned on NPR the other day that more soldiers were smoking. Now it seems it was part of the pack mentality of high profile reporters/media.
    On another note, that quote from Rather is truly disgusting, considering the latest horror we’ve inflicted in this illegal war. If we could get everyone to blow up their freaking TVs, we might have a chance.

  • http://blog.thought-mesh.net Annoying Old Guy

    The right wing appropriation of “moral values”? When has the right wing not had that as a major plank? It’s not that the right wing has taken to it (they have always used it) it’s that the left wing has thrown it away. Look at your own disdain for “higher purposes”. Moral values are inseperable from such purposes. If you discard the latter you’re also discarding the former.

    As for the invasion of Iraq being “accepted without question”, I’d love to see what evidence you have for that. I certainly ponder it quite a bit.

    Finally, I’d note the inventors of “the ends justifies the means” and discarding quotidian moral concerns for the greater good (“breaking eggs to make omlettes”) were good Leftists who still have large followings.

  • Red Hot American

    Hello all, after reading a few of the post in here i find myself wishing i knew some of you personaly so i could kick you in your behinds..If you people are so holy then get off your fat arses and go to iraq to do your bidding..What you jerks seemed to have missed is the purpose of running the soldiers pictures..America Needs Its Hero’s..Pride in our country is what you low lifes have forgot about..It was best said as ” Love It Or Leave It”, i think most of you need a plane ticket.

  • JT

    pride in a country? yeh, just fuck the rest of the world. that seems to be the general narrow world view. and a plane ticket? well, that would be a start. you wanna wait in line for me and let the inspectors dig through your dirty underwear and look up YOUR ass instead of mine? and oh gee, guess what? your name’s on this here no-fly list so you basically are a prisoner here in this country where your pension plan just went belly-up and you have no medical insurance to pay for your heart meds anymore. but hey. thanks for being a good american and waving the flag. I’m sure the dollar will get even with the euro again someday soon. god bless you good pilgrim.

  • hector orrantia

    hay man that dudes name is hector orrantia from san jose CA. how do i know? well because it a picture of me. i’m mexican. look at the name, and the face. they don’t go together.

  • Michael/BAGnews

    Hector,

    Thanks for writing in. As I mentioned in the related post, the mother of Michael Pristavec (the guy who the Times thought was you) wrote me and was pretty upset.

    I hope you are well and safe.

  • Maria

    the top picture identified as Lance Cpl. Michael Pristavec, is actually Lance Cpl. Hector Orrantia. I’m not sure if the name really matters, but just thought it might be noted.

  • jtfromBC

    Here is a photo of Hector who is no longer safe.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/fnews/1279524/posts
    Thank you for the pictures of Al Asad very nice. My son it with weapons Plt. in Camp Fallujah. Any new?
    Mom & Dad
    Proud LCPL Hector Orrantia 1/8 Bravo Co.
    Posted by: Yolanda & Leonardo at November 13, 2004 10:26 AM http://www.marinecorpsmoms.com/archives/000066.html
    Lance Cpl. Hector Orrantia and a US soldier have been killed and three others injured in an attack on a military base near Baghdad. No date was given.

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