As the editor of the alt-journalism site YellowTimes.org, Erich Marquardt thinks war coverage should go beyond the breathless reports of "embeds" and the is-it-the-Fourth-of-July-already live shots of Tomahawk missiles exploding into distant targets. So when Al-Jazeera aired videotape of U.S. soldiers captured and killed by Iraqi troops, Marquardt posted screen grabs of the images on the YellowTimes site. It was a chance, he thought, to counteract the "romanticized" view of war offered up by the mainstream media.
That chance didn't last long. On Monday morning, the Florida-based Internet company that hosts YellowTimes told Marquardt it was pulling the plug on his site unless he took the photos down. Marquardt didn't blink, and YellowTimes is now off the air.
Marquardt calls it "outright censorship" -- an attack on YellowTimes' ability to show that war has human consequences. "The mainstream media doesn't show the real effects of war," Marquardt told Salon. "They send in their embedded correspondents and they get all excited, and then people become excited by the image of war and not the truth."
In fact, the mainstream media has shown little from Al-Jazeera videotape of Americans captured and killed. The Pentagon asked the networks not to air the video because it showed the captives who had been killed and because, the Pentagon said, the making of the videotape violated the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. networks have complied with that request, and many major newspapers have refrained from publishing photos taken from the video as well.
In a note accompanying the photos on the YellowTimes site, Marquardt's colleague Matthew Riemer expressed hope that seeing the photos would allow Web-surfing war junkies to make a "more real and human-based assessment" of both the Iraq war and war in general. Instead, at least some of the people who saw the site contacted YellowTimes' hosting company, Vortech Hosting Inc., and demanded that the photos be removed.
Vortech owner Craig Smith said that his company's decision to suspend service for YellowTimes had "nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with how we feel about the war in Iraq." He said that the Florida-based company is a small family business that would "like to keep the emphasis on 'family.'"
"The fact is, we don't allow adult content, be it pornography or violent images," Smith said. "I personally saw a picture of a soldier with a hole in his head on that Web site. This, to us, would be considered adult content. Whether it was a dead soldier or a dead bunny rabbit, we don't want these types of images on our Web servers."
Cindy Cohn, the legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said it is unusual for a hosting company to shut down a site because of its political bent. "Most people who host other people's speech actually believe in freedom of speech," she said. Cohn said the "isolated" actions of a company like Vortech aren't particularly problematic so long as there is competition in the Web-hosting market. "I tell people, 'If you don't like your ISP, vote with your feet.'"
That's what Marquardt has done. He has found an individual in San Francisco who is willing to host YellowTimes, and the site will be back up -- complete with the controversial photographs -- within a day or so. But that doesn't mean he's happy about it.
"What's so great about the United States is that the government does not regularly censor dissenting views," Marquardt said. "But the problem you have is that private companies do."