Wednesday, June 28, 2006

THE CONTINUING TRIALS OF MICHAEL YON, self-embedded reporter on the War on Terror

If you want to know what's really goi
ng on in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no better way to get to the bottom of the story than to follow the "Milblogs"-- web-loggers on the battlefield, either as military personnel or embedded reporters. Among the best, and bluntest, is Michael Yon, a journalist with no previous combat exposure who decided to raise money and get himself embedded as an independent observer, not in the employ of any commercial media outlet. His writing and photography have been among the most vivid and intense, and he takes second place to no one in giving the true picture of front-line action.

Yon has supported himself in this endeavour by soliciting donations and selling limited editions of his powerful photographic images, the most famous of which is the picture of Major Mark Bieger giving compassionate comfort to Farah, a 3-year-old Iraqi girl in her last moments of life after terrorists attacked an Army convoy which had been surrounded with excited young children, as they often are. The full story behind this photo is here.

When Yon offered this moving image in a limited edition to support his continued presence in Iraq, I snapped one up (for $125 well spent) and was proud to put it on my wall, where I can see it now from where I sit. For Yon this image is an icon of every courageous act of service he has witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan while living and travelling side by side with American troops, and it is precious to him, as to all of us who own one.

Imagine his shock, and that of all his readers, when this image turned up on the cover of the debut issue of a magazine called "SHOCK" -- the new English-language version of a trashy French photo-rag which typically features gross-out freakshow exploitation pictures of festering wounds, human deformities, disaster victims, vomiting celebrities, plus the predict
able array of half-naked women. Yon's copyrighted photo had been used without permission in a setting which degraded it beyond description.

Yon expressed his outrage on his webpage, and it did not take much encouragement for his fans to embark on a major campaign of complaints and boycotts aimed at retailers and publishers who handle this revolting magazine. With its image in the back of my mind, I kept an eye out for it as I did my regular shopping. The last place I expected it to turn up was on the shelf at my local Bruno's Fine Foods one of seven branches of a family-run up-market grocery in Toronto. I immediately emailed the management of the chain, and to their credit they agreed wholeheartedly with my opinion of the magazine and have returned it to the publisher. [I think the email I received w
as from the manager of my local store, so I will check out other branches to see if they have done likewise.] The response was as follows:
Upon receiving your e-mail and looking at the publication, I could not agree with you more fully. We do not always choose what the publisher sends us, but we are not under any obligation to display or sell any title. The ladies who look after the shelf have not encountered many situations like this, and I apologize to you for having this type of magazine available for sale here at Bruno's. We have informed our distributor that we no longer want to receive the "Shock" title and I have pulled all issues from the shelf, personally. We trust that will meet your approval and that of most all our customers'.

I thank you for bringing this matter to my attention and hope that we will be able to continue to serve you here at Bruno's, in the future.

Sincerely, Al McMurray Manager, Bruno's Fine Foods
Good work, Al.

The debut issue of "Shock" with the Michael Yon photo is now off the shelf, replaced by issue #2. All Toronto readers of this blog are urged to monitor both your local Bruno's and other stores (Chapters/Indigo has refused to pull the magazine-- big surprise!) to see if this piece o' trash is littering the magazine rack. It is truly the kind of stuff you used to have to order in a plain brown wrapper, but that's true of so much that has become mainstream in today's media. Still-- this is a new item, it has no other purpose than exploitation and an appeal to sick appetites, and a quick reaction might nip its fut
ure in the bud, at least at small neighbourhood outlets. (But it's also worthwhile keeping up the waves of complaints to the big guys-- Borders in the States is being as unresponsive as its little cousin, Chapters/Indigo.)

The publisher of "Shock" is a huge French media conglomerate (HFM) which also publishes Elle, Car & Driver, Woman's Day, and various other popular magazines. Michael Yon's fans are working hard to make HFM feel the pinch on all these products until they arrive at a fair settlement for their misuse of his prized photograph.

At the recent whack-job conspiracy nutbar 9/11 + The Neo-Con Agenda convention held in La-La-Los Angeles, a stoodent named "Rico" was heard to opine that the presence of Charlie Sheen: Actor, Swinger, Structural Engineer lent the conference some needed "legitimacy."

Bwah-hah-hah-hah. Heh.