This week, an interesting behind the scenes debate played out between the Associated Press, a deceased Marine’s parents, and the Secretary of Defense.

NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press is distributing a photo of a Marine fatally wounded in battle, choosing after a period of reflection to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.

Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, 21, of New Portland, Maine, was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Aug. 14 in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.

The image shows fellow Marines helping Bernard after he suffered severe leg injuries. He was evacuated to a field hospital where he died on the operating table…

The AP waited until after Bernard’s burial in Madison, Maine, on Aug. 24 to distribute its story and the pictures. An AP reporter met with his parents, allowing them to see the images.

Bernard’s father after seeing the image of his mortally wounded son said he opposed its publication, saying it was disrespectful to his son’s memory. John Bernard reiterated his viewpoint in a telephone call to the AP on Wednesday.

“We understand Mr. Bernard’s anguish. We believe this image is part of the history of this war. The story and photos are in themselves a respectful treatment and recognition of sacrifice,” said AP senior managing editor John Daniszewski.

Thursday afternoon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called AP President Tom Curley asking that the news organization respect the wishes of Bernard’s father and not publish the photo. Curley and AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said they understood this was a painful issue for Bernard’s family and that they were sure that factor was being considered by the editors deciding whether or not to publish the photo, just as it had been for the AP editors who decided to distribute it.

See the photo here. (Graphic, yes, but taken at enough of a distance so as not to be gruesome.) Read more about Bernard’s death here, and more on the AP’s decision to release the photo here and here.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.