That's what the SECDEF called it, and that's powerful language for someone in his position.
Others are thoroughly documenting this repugnant story, so just allow me to add that the argument that publication was justified because it "shows the truth of war," more clearly than otherwise is ridiculous (that was reportedly the photographer's justification: to get people to "think about the war").
It doesn't take a photo that adds additional distress to families to understand the "truth" of war. We see the truth in the tear-stained faces of families tenderly touching a flag-covered casket as it is lowered into the ground, we hear it in the voices of friends who watched their brothers fall, we feel it in our stomachs when we contemplate another parent who has outlived their child or another girl who will grow up without a father (something I know a bit about myself). Anyone who thinks it takes a photo to bring home "the truth," is lacking some basic skills in empathy and general humanity.
The AP's publication of this photo was gratuitous and--considering that they showed it to the family beforehand to get a reaction--heartless.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, Mudville Gazette has all the details.
UPDATE: Army veteran John says it well.
The AP defended itself in that it decided to make the image public anyway because it “conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.”
Because, of course, none of us understand that, apparently, and they felt the need to share, because, well, we're uninformed, donchaknow.
From Marine wife Cassandra, another who says it better than I:
Oh, but you see that is different. Journalists, unlike Marine Lance Corporals and their grieving families, are real people (not tools to be used to further your political agenda). Those of us who are shocked and grieved beyond measure by the callous and cynical exploitation of a young man who died in the service of his country will no doubt be comforted to know that the Fourth Estate, unlike public servants, need not obey the rules of common decency that govern the rest of humanity.
A military mother speaks from the heart (received by email):
No parent should ever be subjected to the cruelty of the photo. That may not have been her intent, but that (to me) was the effect. Isn't it bad enough that this young man is dead? Wasn't it enough that those parents had to answer the door? And not only is that dead Marine subject to the disgust and contempt and ridicule of some in the world (one would be more than he deserved), his death is being used to undermine the very thing he died for! And who the hell is the so-called journalist to decide that??
Now, if she wants to volunteer to stand in front of a gun and die to make the point, and have HER death photo published, I'm sure I can find a s***load of volunteers to help her!
A commenter at Neptunus Lex (a woman who viewed WWII through adult eyes) offers an insightful observation:
The great war correspondents of the past, like Ernie Pyle and Edward Murrow would be appalled. They assumed that we were their equals in compassion and understanding. These people don’t.