The cover photo, taken at Parris Island, S.C., shows seven Marines lined up in their T-shirts, shorts and socks. They are not identified in photo credits or in the article. In fact, Harper's says the Marines are not meant to depict people in the article.
"We are decorating pages," said Giulia Melucci, the magazine's vice president for public relations. "We are not saying the soldiers are AWOL. Our covers are not necessarily representative."
A media observer said using real people as "decorations" for a story about deserters might go too far.
"Going AWOL is not a favorable or positive thing," said Kenny Irby, visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.
Another issue is that the photograph was altered. One recruit's image appears lighter than the others, as if he were disappearing.
Gee, would you "decorate pages" with random photos for a story about sexual predators? Come on, people, think about what you are doing. You are implicitly charging them with a crime on the cover of your magazine. You are accusing them of cowardice in time of war and the betrayal of their oath "to uphold protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic."
And consider how one Marine in particular feels about being depicted as "fading away" from his comrades in arms.
Lance Cpl. Britian Kinder, an active Marine who asked that his base not be identified, is upset.
"It does make me pretty angry that they would do something like this. I'm pretty much upset that they would do this without my consent."
Kinder's father believes the magazine should correct the impression it has made of his son.
"People recognize this picture," said Mickey Kinder of Pinch, W.Va. "Put another picture of him in the magazine and do a retraction. He's not AWOL."
It is bad enough that the magazine decided to publish an article painting cowards and malcontents as sympathetic, even heroic, figures. What is worse is that they decided to tar smear the honorable in the process -- for not one Marine on the cover of that magazine is a deserter.
UPDATE (3/29/05): It appears that Harper's has been stung by the criticism their way. They plan on running a "clarification"
about the cover.
"We're going to print a clarification in our next issue," said Giulia Melucci, a vice president at New York-based Harper's. "We feel it needs to be clarified that these are respectable soldiers defending our country honorably. We regret any confusion it may have caused."
Note, of course, that this isn't quite an apology for defaming those pictured. Nor does it deal with the blatantly anti-military (some would say anti-American) article that the cover promoted. Maybe Harper's would consider doing an article about what is right witht he American military, along with an actual apology for their maligning the good names of "a few good men."