What are the real responsibilities of the press during war?

An intriguing story. It’s hard to ever really trust government perspectives on war – they simply want the ugly truths to be ignored – but did Associated Press do the right thing here?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed disappointment Friday at news outlets that used a picture taken and distributed by The Associated Press depicting a U.S. Marine mortally wounded in combat in Afghanistan.

The AP distributed the picture despite personal pleas from Gates and the dead Marine’s family in a case that illustrated the difficult decisions in reporting on a conflict where Americans have seen relatively few images of fallen U.S. troops over eight years.

The picture, by AP photographer Julie Jacobson, showed Lance Cpl. Joshua “Bernie” Bernard, 21, lying on the ground with severe leg injuries after being struck by a grenade in an ambush on Aug. 14, his fellow Marines tending to him. Bernard later died of his wounds.

Gates wrote a strongly worded letter to AP President and CEO Tom Curley on Thursday, saying it was a matter of “judgment and common decency” not to use the photo. A Pentagon spokesman said Gates followed up with a phone call “begging” Curley not to use it.

After the photo was published Friday, the Pentagon released its communications with the AP.

John Daniszewski, AP senior managing editor, said he respected Gates’ view but that sometimes the government and press have different perspectives.

“We thought that the image told a story of sacrifice; it told a story of bravery,” Daniszewski said. “We felt that the picture told a story that people needed to see and be aware of.”