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Questions about the John Kerry photo; answer: it’s real and accurate

By Michelle Malkin  •  December 28, 2006 01:37 PM

***12/29 update: see below…a message from the US Army captain/milblogger in Iraq who posted the photo…and corroborating photos…***

TPM Muckraker has some questions about the Lonely Kerry photo posted by Scott Hennen and linked by Power Line, me, and others. Justin Rood writes:

At Hennen’s site, commenter “Anthony” noted that the picture’s embedded data, just a right-click away, shows the picture was taken on January 9, 2006 — several months before Kerry botched his joke:

News accounts at the time put Kerry in England around that time — which might explain the giant Union Jack hanging on the far wall.

At PowerLine, another problem surfaced: As commenter “Angus” noted, the flag hanging to the right of the Union Jack belongs to Portugal, which withdrew its mighty 120-man coalition force from Iraq nearly two years ago.

Update: There may be reason to question the image data. In addition to giving the date of Jan. 9th for the picture, it says it was taken by a Vivitar Vivicam 8400 camera. According to this article dated Feb. 27, that model was not yet released. Can anyone verify this?

I’ve e-mailed Scott Hennen for a response. One more question: Can anyone verify that
the location depicted in the photo is the mess hall at the US Embassy in Iraq, as Scott Hennen’s correspondent identified it?

If not, I owe a big apology to Sen. Kerry and to readers.

Update: It’s TPM that owes apologies.

Update: Talked to Scott Hennen by phone. He vouches for the authenticity of the photo and while protecting the identity of his source, he told me it was a reliable source who works for someone high up in Iraq and was there during Kerry’s visit.

TPM Muckraker suggests the photo is a year old based on the image data date and suggests the photo was taken when Kerry was in England. I think they’re wrong. As many readers note, lots of camera users neglect to change the date settings on their equipment and EXIF data can be easily manipulated. (Also: reader Gregor writes, “Would they still have Christmas decorations up on Jan 9th? Maybe, but I thought it’s worth asking. If I were to guess … I don’t see the stuff staying up two full weeks after Christmas.”)

Another photo of Kerry in Iraq on Dec. 16 (this time surrounded by a few more troops), noted by Jim Hoft at the time of Kerry’s visit, shows him wearing the same shirt he’s wearing in the photo posted by Hennen:



He’s also wearing the same shirt in these photos from his Iraq visit posted at Blackfive.

TPM Muckraker commenter Donald notes this photo of the Embassy mess hall, apparently posted by a Baghdad-based photographer on December 25, 2006. I’ve added a yellow oval to call attention to the decorations hanging from the ceiling, which appear to be identical to those in the photo of Kerry posted on Hennen’s site:


It is unlikely in the extreme that the same Christmas decorations were used in a U.K. mess hall in January 2006 and an American mess hall in Baghdad in December 2006.

Update: Reader Terry M. sends a link to this photo of the Embassy mess hall at Thanksgiving, which was uploaded to Flickr by a Baghdad-based photographer on December 9, 2006. I’ve added a yellow rectangle to call attention to the lights, which appear to be identical to those in the disputed Kerry photo (you’ll also note all the coalition flags, which explain the presence of the Union Jack in the original photo posted at Scott’s site):


If you believe the disputed Kerry photo was taken in England in January 2006, then you must also believe that: (a) Kerry wore the same shirt in England as he did in Iraq 11 months later; (b) the U.K mess hall had Christmas decorations hanging from its ceiling two weeks after Christmas Day, (c) those decorations were identical to those hung 11 months later in the American Embassy in Baghdad, and (d) the U.K. mess hall has the same lights as the American Embassy in Baghdad.


Reader Tom A. writes:

The guy to Senator Kerry’s left (seated behind him) is wearing a U.S. Army “Army Combat Uniform” (ACU).

This is a relatively new & unique camouflage pattern and looks nothing like any U.K. uniform — or any other army for that matter.

Moreover, if a U.S. Soldier was in the U.K. at an official meal, it is highly unlikely he would be in a utility uniform.

Finally, having spent a couple of holidays in Iraq and Afghanistan myself, I can vouch for the fact that this dining facility bears a striking resemblance to every other U.S. dining facility in the combat zones — cheap tables, cheap tablecloths, cheap paper mache decorations, and hired-hand kitchen help in pseudo-tux uniforms who are on contract from a third-party country.

It’s Iraq alright.

Another reader e-mails:

My brother is an Air Force Col. serving on Gen. Casey’s staff in Baghdad. I emailed him yesterday to ask if he had seen the picture of “Mr. Lonely.” He had seen the pix and the following is what he wrote back:

“The picture on the website of the Senator is from the same chow hall I use. We call it the DEFAC (Dining facility). The night prior I was in the chow hall with the Senator, he
came in just behind me and sat a few tables over. Everybody avoided him like the plague.”

Reader John:

Not that you need any more evidence, but the chair backs in the disputed Kerry photo are identical to the ones in the other, undisputed, U.S. Baghdad embassy mess hall photo.


Bottom line: Nice try, TPM, but the photo is real. If you’re looking to exercise your fauxtography-debunking muscles, see here.


12/29 update: Final word. TPM Muckraker Justin Rood doesn’t apologize, but his latest post all but concedes that his suggestion that the photo was fake was dead wrong. He received the following e-mail and photos from CPT Benjamin G. Runkle in Iraq, who runs the blog Ben of Mesopotamia. The e-mail was cc’ed to Scott Hennen, Power Line, and me:


Thank you for your interest and for taking the time to contact me regarding the photos. I certainly did not intend to kick up such a firestorm by posting them on my web log. (Another friend here sent a separate photo and account to radio host Scott Hennen, who subsequently publicized the incident). In the name of fairness, I’m copying the other bloggers you mentioned in your post so that everybody has equal access to this story.

To answer your questions, yes, the photos are authentic. Although I did not personally take the pictures, I saw the person who did immediately after they took them and asked for a copy.

The explanation for the date/time stamp falls under the category of Occam’s Razor: the person whose camera was used had just arrived in Baghdad, hadn’t taken any pictures with it yet, and hadn’t set their date/time stamp yet. (Believe it or not, not all servicemen here are technological wizards. As my wife could tell you, I wasn�t able to figure out our DVR while home on leave). This, as you noted, also explains the seeming discrepancy between the date/time stamp and the commercial availability of the camera model.

To hopefully put this matter to rest, (but given the current state of our political discourse and related conspiracy theories, not likely) I’m attaching two photos taken this morning with the same camera from roughly the same angle. Note the same Christmas and wall decorations (although one poinsettia has been added since December 17), the same flags in the background, and a copy of today’s (12/29) Stars and Stripes as “proof of life.” (Incidentally, I commend to your readers Megan McCloskey’s article on the Marine Engineering Battalion that has adopted an Iraqi school).

The date/time stamp, for those interested, is exactly twelve days after the original time stamp. Apparently, the owner still hasn’t gotten around to setting it.

As to why the Portuguese flag is still flying in the Dining Facility . . . well, okay, you got me there. My guess is that the contractors who run the DFAC either:
a) Have no idea whose flag it is and whether they are still in country or not;
b) Don�t care about the political implications of hanging that flag; or
c) Don�t have anything else to fill the empty wall space.
Either way, I will bring it to the manager’s attention at lunch today.

Again, thank you for your interest in this matter. Have a Happy New Year.


Be sure to read CPT Runkle’s reflections on the left-wing’s hysterics over the photo as well.

Power Line reflects on moonbattery here.

Ann Althouse has fun with photo time/date stamps. Hee.

Posted in: Fauxtography

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Categories: Fauxtography