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November 14, 2004

L.A. Times Coughs Up New Marlboro Man (…Or: “15 Minutes of Flame”)

marlboroLATMiller

In an impressive act of exploitation, the LATimes has done its best to gets some mileage from the image of an unwilling GI.

After running a photo last Wednesday of Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller that was picked up by over 100 newspapers, the Times ran a follow up story on Saturday about the popularity of their picture. Not to miss the chance to hype the image (at the expense of the soldier, not to mention the war), the Times unashamedly juiced the story from every promotional angle.

They dropped in references to John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, poster boys, and, of course, the Marlboro Man. They worked in some Muslim vilification (describing Miller as catching a smoke just before going after some Iraqi’s “holed up in yet another mosque.”) They added a plug for their photographer, Luis Sinco. Then they started in with unabashed hype for the picture itself.

Just consider this line:

The image, printed in more than 100 newspapers, has quickly moved into the realm of the iconic.

Of course, once the Times anointed their photo with icon status, the blatant sexualization was not far behind. Two lines later, the Times found the opportunity not just to plug itself, but to point out that Miller had become the object of lust.

The Los Angeles Times and other publications have received scores of e-mails wanting to know about this mysterious figure. Many women, in particular, have inquired about how to contact him.

As if they had the next Jessica Lynch on their hands (forgetting that the military generally designates who to deify, not the press), the Times implied (with attendant melodrama) that the image had achieved a widespread resonance.

The photo seems to have struck a chord, as an image of America striking back at a perceived enemy, or just one young man putting his life on the line halfway across the globe.

Then, in a blatantly patronizing act, the Times went to the military with the hype in order to ignite their enthusiasm. The results, however, were less than spectacular.

Labeling “the top Marine brass” as “thrilled,” the Times reported that Col. Craig Tucker, head of the combat regiment that includes Miller’s battalion, had gone so far as to have one of the pictures “blown up and sent over to the unit.”

Interspersed with all this b.s. is the sad fact that Mr. Miller is down-and-out, in the middle of a hellish battle, and can’t seem to understand or care why the Times has been playing him up.

Probably the most crass aspect about the photo and the article, however, involves the romanticization of smoking. In reality, Miller has a profound addiction to cigarettes. According to the article, the extent of Miller’s habit has “raised eyebrows,” even though smoking in the military is pervasive. Miller has a 3 pack-a-day habit.

(“I tried to get him to stop — the cigarettes will kill him before the war,” says Navy Corpsman Anthony Lopez, a company medic.)

Adding insult to injury, the notoriety has caused other soldiers to want cigarettes from Miller. The article mentioned the soldier is down to his last four packs, and he’s feeling a little desperate.

Chafing under the hype, Miller — who hails from a very small town in Appalachia — seemed to directly rebuff the Times p.r. effort on his behalf. When asked if he was inclined to “cash in on his fame,” Miller said he was just more interested in being home.

“I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about,” Miller says. “I was just smokin’ a cigarette and someone takes my picture and it all blows up.”

(photo: the famous Luis Sinco of the LA Times!)

  • Colin

    Why are you so concerned with making everything seem so evil?

  • Linda Poole

    Hi, your comments are right on! I worked during Reagan admin., when Surgeon Gen. C. Everett Koop was focusing on smoking (against wishes of those who appointed him, I might add), the US military made a real, progressive push toward promoting non smoking in the military. When Clinton was prez., the tobacco companies tried to send “free cigs” to the troops, I believe ( or 1st Prez Bush, not sure which) & the US Army nixed that idea big time!
    Now we got Pres. G. Dubya, with his former tobacco lawyer Karl Rove & US Sec. of Health Tommy Thompson , former tobacco lobbyist, & Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger in California(former & probably continuing paid “celebrity cigar smoker” for the industry) helping Big Tobacco “roll back” as much progress in all areas of Amerikan life as possible—while at same time, of course, continuing to demonize, criminalize, prisonize, medical marijuana smokers & pot smokers in general!
    It makes me want to choke, but I have asthma, got it from 20 years of smoking, starting age 14 to when I quit age 34! Great for the immune system, smoking. (Soldiers who get that really bad respiratory infection in Iraq from the sand dust, those who smoke get REALLY ill, it is reported)
    And the Marlboro Man rides on,
    into the Iraqi Desert, reborn as the Marlboro Soldier. And, Mommy Dearest sends her son a CASE of cigarettes.
    I heard on one TV program, he used to be a non smoker before joined service. If so, he’ll sure be a heavily addicted smoker when he gets back home. Makes me want to puke.

  • Rachel

    I see nothing wrong with the picture. Every day you see someone smoking a cigarette, you may not like it, but you shrug it off and go on. This is a young man fighting. He has seen some stuff that could tear a man up inside. If he wants to light one up, then let him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a hero.

  • Jonathan Kendall

    After killing people, there´s nothing better than a cigarrete. TOUCHÉ

  • aliannmil

    Nicotine is a drug, classified as such the same as alcohol. I know that folks like the respondent above would not fault our soldiers for wanting a smoke, a drink or any number of other drugs to make the stress and pain of war go away. I wonder if they would shrug it off as easily if the soldier was indulging in a little heroin. I was addicted, now I am not. I don’t like seeing tobacco romanticization return to our media. The Marlboro man is dead, killed by cigarettes, as was John Wayne. Do we really want to make this our image of bravery in the face of war? Smoking is an addiction just the same as alcoholism and drug addiction and the military has a responsibility to help this soldier free himself from it the same as if he were drinking.
    When will the American government and the media stop being the shills of the Tobacco Companies?

  • g-man

    Ms. Poole, get off your high horse. The man is just having a smoke after a hard day, and take my word for it, in combat sometimes your ‘day’ can last up to 72+ hours or more with no sleep. Last thing any troop needs is for you to start pontificating on the dangers of smoking. Trust me, the danger is real enough without the cigarette smoke.

  • rudysdad

    Interesting that we’re not talking about a soldier’s exploitation by the press and the Army, or what the soldier’s doing in Iraq, but about how smoking is ‘bad’ for him or, worse, sends the wrong ‘message’.
    Small wonder the rest of the world, when it isn’t dodging our bullets and bombs, shake their heads at American fatuity.
    Would it be more acceptable to the self-righteous non-smokers and ex-smokers if the soldier relieved the stress of being away from home, in a hostile environment, facing death and dismemberment at any moment, if he over indulged in tofu, or whatever the smug consider a satisfactory alternative to tobacco?
    Are we now so steeped in blood and sheep-like that our only outrage about the American military machine is that it distributes cigarettes to its soldiers?

  • Jaime

    The cigarette is of secondary importance.
    The soldier’s face is the story and not the cigarette. The soldiers eyes. The scratch/cut on his nose. Was he exposed to heat (from a blast) or is it black grease used for camouflage? Are those abrassions on his forehead and cheeks?
    I oppose the war but if lighting up helps him calm his nerves it is a well spend stick of nicotine.
    Pray for for him.
    Pray for peace.

  • jt from BC

    Updqate: The Malboro Man, Lance Cpl Blake Miller, has been honorably discharged suffering from PSTD he has married.”The more and more I talk to [other guys], the more I found out there were a lot of Marines that are going through same or similar emotions. It’s tough to deal with. Being in Iraq is something no one wants to talk about”.”http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0104-08.htm
    Should he have a child and his condition worsen he will be entitled to $2,400. monthly or $1.4 million (excluding inflation)over his lifetime. These scenarios are causing panic in the VA.
    “The Bush administration is twisting itself into a pretzel trying to find ways not to diagnose soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including altering the diagnostic criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association- the article.. relates the attempt to have politics dictate medicine”
    Not cited by the WashPost was a New England Journal of Medicine study showing that 1 in 6 Iraq vets are suffering from PTSD — and less than half of them seek treatment.
    “Scott said Veterans Affairs’ objectives were made clear in the department’s request to the Institute of Medicine for a $1.3 million study to review how PTSD is diagnosed and treated,” the WashPost continued. “Among other things, the department asked the institute – a branch of the National Academies chartered by Congress to advise the government on science policy — to review the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for diagnosing PTSD. Effectively, Scott said, Veterans Affairs was trying to get one scientific organization to second-guess another. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=9408
    I wonder what will happen to the Hero of November 9th 2004 and the potential thousands of “his fellow band of brothers”, will the LA times be there as these boys confront their new realities ?

  • jbird

    11/13/07
    something hokey but perhaps necessary: I just heard last night that Miller is down and out as a direct consequence of the war. He has PTSD, is suicidal and had divorced. This man should not be made to feel alone over the holidays. What to do folks?

  • jtfromBC

    jbird,
    Miller has joined a biker gang and explains why in
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/marlboromarine

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