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CONTROVERSY OVER PULITZER-WINNING AP PHOTOS

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By thisistwitchy  •  April 5, 2005 12:18 AM

As I noted earlier, the Pulitzers were announced Monday afternoon. One travesty was the failure to acknowledge Claudia Rosett’s ground-breaking commentary/reportage on the U.N. Oil for Food scandal. Here’s another potential scandal: Bloggers are raising (or rather, re-raising) disturbing questions about one of the Associated Press photos that won the Breaking News Photography prize.

First, check out the 20 award-winning photos at the Pulitzer website here.

The citation for the award reads:

For a distinguished example of breaking news photography in black and white or color, which may consist of a photograph or photographs, a sequence or an album, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to the Associated Press Staff for its stunning series of photographs of bloody yearlong combat inside Iraqi cities.

One of the winning photos was this horrifying image of terrorists executing of Iraqi election workers on Haifa Street in Baghdad:

execution.jpg
Credit: Associated Press

Via LGF’s readers, we are reminded that the Belmont Club first raised troubling questions in December 2004 (here and here and here) about how exactly the AP photographer arrived at the scene.

Also wondering at the time about the AP’s relationship with the pictured terrorists and the related media ethics issues/disclosure obligations involved were Power Line and Roger L. Simon (also here). See also Mudville Gazette and Joe Katzman for background.

A key post from John Hinderaker at Power Line on Dec. 25 sums up the outrage and highlights the AP’s admission that its photographer was “tipped off” and had a relationship with the terrorists:

The issue relates to the shocking photo, recently published by the AP, showing three terrorists in the act of murdering two Iraqi election workers on a street during daylight. The photographer was obviously within a few yards of the scene of the murder, which raises obvious questions, such as 1) what was the photographer doing there; did he have advance knowledge of the crime, or was he even accompanying the terrorists? and 2) why did the photographer apparently have no fear of the terrorists, or conversely, why were the terrorists evidently unconcerned about being photographed in the commission of a murder?…

Salon printed a defense of the AP (and an attack on conservative bloggers) that included this anonymous comment from an AP spokesman:

A source at the Associated Press knowledgeable about the events covered in Baghdad on Sunday told Salon that accusations that the photographer was aware of the militants’ plans are “ridiculous.” The photographer, whose identity the AP is withholding due to safety concerns, was likely “tipped off to a demonstration that was supposed to take place on Haifa Street,” said the AP source, who was not at liberty to comment by name. But the photographer “definitely would not have had foreknowledge” of a violent event like an execution, the source said.

So the AP admitted that its photographer was “tipped off” by the terrorists. The only quibble asserted by the AP was that the photographer expected only a “demonstration,” not a murder. So the terrorists wanted to be photographed carrying out the murder, to sow more terror in Iraq and to demoralize American voters. That’s why they tipped off the photographer, and that’s why they dragged the two election workers from their car, so they could be shot in front of the AP’s obliging camera. And the AP was happy to cooperate with the terrorists in all respects. We’d like to ask some more questions of the photographer, of course, but that’s impossible since the AP won’t identify him because of “safety concerns.” Really? Who would endanger his safety? The terrorists? They could have shot him on Sunday if they were unhappy about having their picture taken. But they weren’t, which is why they “tipped off” the photographer…

Now there’s more: Jim Romanesko got an email from another AP spokesman, this time Jack Stokes, the AP’s director of media relations. Here it is:

Several brave Iraqi photographers work for The Associated Press in places that only Iraqis can cover. Many are covering the communities they live in where family and tribal relations give them access that would not be available to Western photographers, or even Iraqi photographers who are not from the area.

Insurgents want their stories told as much as other people and some are willing to let Iraqi photographers take their pictures. It’s important to note, though, that the photographers are not “embedded” with the insurgents. They do not have to swear allegiance or otherwise join up philosophically with them just to take their pictures.

That makes the admission pretty well complete, I think. The AP is using photographers who have relationships with the terrorists; this is for the purpose of helping to tell the terrorists’ “stories.” The photographers don’t have to swear allegiance to the terrorists–gosh, that’s reassuring–but they have “family and tribal relations” with them. And they aren’t embedded–I’m not sure I believe that–but they don’t need to be either, since the terrorists tip them off when they are about to commit an act that they want filmed.

Is this the best the Pulitzer committee could find? Did they even bother to discuss the issues raised by the bloggers before bestowing the prize upon the AP? Were they ignorant of the controversy? Or did they simply decide in the end that it didn’t matter?

For inquiring minds, here are the jurors who awarded the Breaking News Photography Pulitzer to the AP and some contact info:

-Denis Finley, managing editor, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, VA (Chair); denis.finley@pilotonline.com

-J. Ross Baughman, director of photography, The Washington Times; j_ross_baughman@hotmail.com

Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Miami, FL

-Larry Nylund, deputy managing editor, presentation, The Journal News, White Plains, NY

-Janet Reeves, director of photography, Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado

***

More: Rusty Shackleford takes a closer look at the prize-winning photos.

And more: Riding Sun also has excellent content analysis examining all of the photos.

Here are my results:

• U.S. troops injured, dead, or mourning: 3
(2, 3, 11)
• Iraqi civillians harmed by the war: 7
(4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 18)
• Insurgents looking determined or deadly: 3
(6, 15, 20)
• US troops looking overwhelmed or uncertain: 3
(7, 12, 14)
• US troops controlling Iraqi prisoners: 2
(16, 17)
• Iraqis celebrating attacks on US forces: 2
(1, 19)

Equally telling is what the photos don’t show:
• US forces looking heroic: 0
• US forces helping Iraqi civillians: 0
• Iraqis expressing support for US forces: 0
• Iraqis expressing opposition to insurgents: 0

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