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Shocking <i>Times?</i>

(AP Photo)
Today's front page of the Washington Times definitely grabs your attention. And not in a good way.

The first thing you see? The corpses of five dead Iranian criminals, pictured from the chest down. Recently in the town of Meshad, there was a public hanging of criminals charged with rape, robbery and kidnapping. And the photo showed five of the bodies, with police officials in the background examining the scene.

I frequently take issue with people who argue for censoring images, based on things like the "cereal test" – that being, don't show people things too troubling to see when they've got a mouth full of Wheaties. Sometimes the world doesn't pass the 'cereal test,' I tell them. And if there is a newsworthy reason to show something that may elicit a gasp from a viewer, than I fully support it.

But still the Times image seems a bit gratuitous. Put aside the fact that it pushes the bounds of taste to cereal test territory. Instead consider that the story beside it – "Saudis Seek an Invitation" – is about Saudi Arabia soliciting an invite to the upcoming peace conference. It's completely independent of the picture and the executions, and doesn't even mention Iran.

The other question is this: What makes this picture newsworthy? And newsworthy enough for the front page, above the fold? Unfortunately, public executions happen regularly around the world, without as much as a peep heard in the US. (I had to find a recent Somalian public execution on AllAfrica.com.) Yes, Iran is an international concern. Their reported connections with Al Qaeda in Iraq are something we would be ill advised to ignore. But an image as disturbing as this strikes me as merely incendiary.

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