Osama bin Laden death


Newspaper designers describe front page techniques for capturing bin Laden’s death

We’ve looked at hundreds of newspaper front pages depicting Osama bin Laden’s death this week, and we’ve noticed several trends.

Many of the front pages used the same photo of bin Laden, the color red, and very short, bold headlines. The Citizens’ Voice, The Brownsville Herald and Express were among the papers that represented these trends.

Hoping to learn more about the stories behind their front pages, I talked with the folks who designed them and asked them about the choices they made.

Use of the same, dominant photo

Monday’s front page

Many of the front pages, including The Citizens’ Voices, used the same dominant photo of bin Laden looking off to the side.

When designing Monday’s front page, Copy Editor Tamara Dunn said there was no doubt that she would use that photo on the cover.

“That was the one photo that was always so striking and menacing,” Dunn said in a phone interview. “Whenever I think of bin Laden, I think of that photo.”

The Brownsville (Texas) Herald, Express and several other newspapers used the same photo on their front pages Monday, and some found new ways to represent it on Tuesday’s covers.

Dunn typically spends six hours designing a front-page cover story and accompanying inside pages. Sunday night, she had only 30 minutes to do it all. As she thought about which photo and headline she would use, Dunn asked herself: What do you want your readers to see when they wake up in the morning?

“Newspapers have the advantage of offering the full story,” she said, noting that front pages are an important part of that story. “You want to be able to be informative, be creative and take a chance on design.”

Use of red, why it’s effective

Red is the dominant color on Express’ front page from Tuesday. When figuring out how to design the front page, Express’ creative director, Scott McCarthy, thought of the iconic Time Magazine covers illustrating the deaths of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

Tuesday’s front page

Those covers show a single image of each of these men with a large red X over their faces, and they don’t have headlines. (Time plans to use this design again for the cover of its issue about bin Laden, which comes out today.)

“When we started with the image, we all had in our heads the Time magazine cover,” McCarthy said. “Of course the difficulty in producing that was we wanted to do it in a way that paid homage to that cover without stealing it.”

He added a headline, “How We Got Him,” to differentiate Express’ cover from Time’s, and he went through 10 different iterations of the cover illustration.

“We had some that had typewriter X’s through bin Laden’s face, and some with just him being scratched out. We had some with the paper looking like it was torn,” said McCarthy, who solicited input from the paper’s other designers. “We ended up with a single red slash going over bin Laden’s face.”

Many newspapers used red on their front pages — a color they’ve used in the past to illustrate historic news events.

“Using minimal color in a design and focusing on red, black and gray provides drama,” said Poynter’s Sara Quinn, who teaches visual journalism. “There is great contrast between the colors.”

Express, which is The Washington Post’s metro paper, has a 7 p.m. deadline. Because it didn’t run a bin Laden cover on Monday, designing effective front pages for Tuesday and Wednesday was especially important, McCarthy said.

Wednesday’s front page

For Wednesday’s paper, McCarthy used the same image as the day before and put it on a bullet with the headline “Who pulled the trigger?” He stacked the words and put “Who” in red.

Quinn thought his use of red worked well. “I like the starkness of the red and black typography,” she said. “There’s a chilling contrast to the pleasant expression on Bin Laden’s face, married with a bloodied bullet.”

Power of short, bold headlines

When designing The Brownsville Herald’s Tuesday front page, Managing Editor Ryan Henry was looking for a headline that relayed anger and justice.

He experimented with different options, including “Payback” and “No More,” but decided on “Retribution” because it was a single, powerful word. Similarly, many newspapers used the word “Dead” as their front page headline on Monday.

Tuesday’s front page

Henry placed the word “Retribution” across the widely-used bin Laden photo, making it look as though part of the terrorist’s face had been torn off.

“When somebody dies, you run their face large like you’re commemorating them and we didn’t want to go that route,” said Henry, who occasionally helps design the paper’s front pages.

He placed a scene of Ground Zero behind the word because he “wanted to remind people of what the retribution was for and where this anger has come from and what it means from beginning to end.”

The images and single-word headline helped illustrate a narrative arc, said Brownsville Herald Editor Marcia Caltabiano-Ponce.

“The image, the World Trade Center, the rip, the red and even the choice of those photos at the bottom of the page had to tell a story,” she said by phone.

The 22,000-circulation paper didn’t have time to create a bin Laden front page for Monday, so Caltabiano-Ponce wanted Tuesday’s page to be memorable.

“We were aware that this was going to be one of the issues that people were going to stick in a trunk for their grandchildren,” she said. “We really wanted something that would hold up.”

Combining various design techniques

The Citizens’ Voice’s Tuesday front page combines the use of red, a bold headline and a bin Laden image in a way that differentiated it from many other front pages. It’s one of the few papers that used so much text to illustrate the news.

Citizens’ Voice staff writer Michael Sisak, who designed the page, said the text helped address questions that people were likely to ask the second day: What’s next? And what does this all mean?

Tuesday’s front page

“I thought that for day two, we weren’t breaking the news anymore, so we could have a little more leeway,” said Sisak, who sometimes helps design the paper’s front pages. “By that time it was more about the analysis of how the raid happens, what it meant for America and the world.”

Sisak used large black type for the front page headline and an all-red background. “We fell on red because it had this really eye-catching look,” he said by phone. “It was sort of ominous. Some people say it resembled hell.”

When imagining the front page, he kept thinking about the release poster for the “Social Network,” which shows actor Jesse Eisenberg’s face hidden behind this sentence: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”

Turning to the poster for inspiration, Sisak used a verse from the Lord’s Prayer — “Deliver us from evil” — as the headline, and laid it over a photo of bin Laden.

“Bin Laden represented the most evil of people,” Managing Editor Larry Holeva said by phone. “I think it showed there was real fear of that evil and that bin Laden’s death ended that terror.”

Holeva said Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where the newsroom is located, is a devout Catholic community. He worried that readers might react negatively to the headline, but the only complaints he got were about the weather map being moved.

When it comes to design, Holeva said, tabloids like the Citizens’ Voice sometimes have more flexibility than broadsheets do.

“Some of the tabloids attempted to do something really big, bold and powerful,” he said. “When I first got here, there was a big push to get more out on the cover. I don’t necessarily believe that’s right. If you have one great story and you can present it in a way that’s really powerful, you’ll do wonders for your newspaper.” Read more

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NYTer: It was strange to read my bin Laden obit

Columbia Journalism Review
Kate Zernike finished it in November of 2001. “In many ways, it was strange for me [to read it on Monday], because I was reading it as a regular reader. I did wonder, ‘Does this stand up to the test of time?’ …The lede was largely my lede, because I remember writing it.”

She tells Lauren Kirchner in a Q-and-A:

I have not had a single reader write to me and say, “Why did you waste all this time on him?” My friends who are readers have sort of impressed upon me the historic element of this, more than maybe I realized myself. And I’ve gotten a lot of reader feedback saying that it was great to have this historical background and just sort of understand again—because, again, we’ve stopped talking about bin Laden—so I think it was really important for people to be reminded of just why he came to loom so large over our country.

Read the rest of the interview Read more


How the media have covered bin Laden’s death

Project for Excellence in Journalism
So far the coverage has defied the tendency seen in many major national news events to turn quickly partisan, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The mainstream media’s major themes: Trying to parse out the details leading up to and during the raid, and sorting through the national and international reaction to it. Pew examine more than 120,000 news stories, 100,000 blog posts, and 6.9 million posts on Twitter or Facebook and found that:

* The largest share of discussion on Facebook and Twitter, (19 percent) has involved people sharing jokes. The second largest theme (17 percent) involved the question of whether bin Laden was really dead.
* One quarter (25 percent) of the mainstream media coverage involved reconstructing the commando mission at bin Laden’s secret hiding place.
* The second-biggest storyline in the mainstream press (24 percent) was reaction to bin Laden’s death from around the world and around the country. || The PEJ report also notes:

Two of the top themes in the blogosphere involved concerns that got less attention in the mainstream press. One of them (at 13%) was fear or unease about the potential retribution for the raid. In that vein, a number of bloggers reprinted sections of an Associated Press story reporting the Homeland Security Department’s warning of possible retaliatory attacks. That was the No. 2 storyline in blogs, just behind straight accounts of what happened (14%). || Read the full report.

> Rieder: Don’t glorify Rumsfeld aide who “broke” news of bin Laden’s death Read more


What journalists were doing when they heard about bin Laden’s death

Gwen Ifill reports in the National Journal:
* Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times was watching “The King’s Speech” on pay per view at home.
* David Sanger, another Timesman, was in Brussels working on a NATO story.
* Tom Gjelten of NPR was on a late-night run to the drug store.
* James Kitfield of National Journal was in Houston hotel room with a glass of brandy, working on stories.
* Helene Cooper of the New York Times was at home watching a recording of the royal wedding. Read more

A photo taken by a local resident, shows the wreckage of a helicopter next to the wall of the compound where according to officials, Osama bin Laden wss shot and killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Monday, May 2, 2011. Bin Laden, the glowering mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed thousands of Americans, was slain in his luxury hideout in Pakistan early Monday. (Mohammad Zubair/AP)

Why the man who tweeted Osama bin Laden raid is a citizen journalist

When I wrote earlier this week about how quickly people around the world learned that Sohaib Athar had “live tweeted” the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, I thought carefully before calling him a citizen journalist.

Now Dan Mitchell has given me the opportunity to explain my thinking. In a SF Weekly post headlined “No, Twitter hasn’t replaced CNN,” Mitchell writes, “In the wake of the assassination, new-media pundits are hailing the event as another victory for social media over traditional media.”

Referring to my description of Athar as a citizen journalist, Mitchell writes, “Because he wondered on Twitter, in real time, now he’s a ‘citizen journalist.’ … Wondering on Twitter why there are helicopters flying around your neighborhood isn’t journalism.”

True, it isn’t. But Athar is not a citizen journalist simply because he wondered about something on Twitter. Rather, he’s a citizen journalist because when he came across an unusual event, he acted in a journalistic manner.

Athar is an excellent example of what we at Poynter have taken to calling the Fifth Estate: people who aren’t trained as journalists, but undertake journalistic endeavors. Some are bloggers, some run independent, hyperlocal news sites, some simply find themselves in the middle of a newsworthy event and start acting like journalists.

Here are the journalistic activities that Athar, aka @ReallyVirtual, demonstrated in his tweets during and after the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

He observed something unusual and told others about it. For example:

  • Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
  • A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S”

He answered questions from others seeking information. A Twitter user asked Athar, “@ReallyVirtual Hello sir, any update on the blasts? What has really happened?”

Athar answered: “@m0hcin all silent after the blast, but a friend heard it 6 km away too… the helicopter is gone too.”

When one person asked whether the helicopter was shot down or crashed, Athar responded: “@smedica people are saying it was not a technical fault and it was shot down. I heard it CIRCLE 3-4 times above, sounded purposeful.”

He acted as a conduit for information, sharing what he knew as he learned it. In response to another tweet, Athar tweeted, “@m0hcin the few people online at this time of the night are saying one of the copters was not Pakistani…”

Later Athar said: “The abbottabad helicopter/UFO was shot down near the Bilal Town area, and there’s report of a flash. People saying it could be a drone.”

At one point, he told people, “Here’s the location of the Abbottabad crash according to some people >>> http://on.fb.me/khjf34

Some of what he relayed was incorrect. He acknowledged some bits were rumor; other times he noted the source:

  • Report from a taxi driver: The army has cordoned off the crash area and is conducting door-to-door search in the surrounding”
  • Another rumor: two copters that followed the crashed one were foreign Cobras – and got away”
  • Report from a sweeper: A family also died in the crash, and one of the helicopter riders got away and is now being searched for.”

He sought reports from news sources and shared them. An hour after the incident, he tweeted a link to an initial news story about a helicopter crash.

Later he tweeted a link to another report and said the crash “could actually be the training accident scenario they’re saying it was.” (The story now describes the bin Laden connection; at the time it didn’t.)

Soon after, he retweeted accounts from a local news source:

“A Major of the #Pakistan #Army’s 19 FF, Platoon CO says incident at #Abbottabad where #helicopter crashed is accidental and not an “attack”

“The Major also says no “missiles” were fired and all such exaggerated reports are nothing but rumours #Pakistan”

He traded what he had heard with others in a shared effort to figure out what was going on. When Athar said he had heard the helicopter circle three or four times, another person responded, “@ReallyVirtual 3-4 times is a little less. I’ve been hearing helicopter flying since 12.35 am may be 10-12 times!”

A photo taken by a local resident shows the wreckage of a helicopter next to the wall of the compound where, according to officials, Osama bin Laden was shot and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Mohammad Zubair/AP)

Athar said, “@smedica It must have been more, I started noticing the helicpoter when the noise got irritating – which part of Abbottabd are you in?”

When a user tweeted that a news outlet was reporting that two Chinook helicopters had been involved, Athar told him, “@kursed Well, there were at least two copters last night, I heard one but a friend heard two, for 15-20 minutes.”

He analyzed what was happening. Professional journalists don’t simply transcribe; they try to make sense of what’s going on. So did Athar:

  • Since taliban (probably) don’t have helicpoters, and since they’re saying it was not ‘ours’, so must be a complicated situation #abbottabad
  • “@tahirakram very likely – but it was too noisy to be a spy craft, or, a very poor spy craft it was.”

At 10:45 pm ET, when Twitter was abuzz with speculation about what President Obama would say in his speech, Athar retweeted this thought from another user:

“I think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President Obama breaking news address are connected.”

Any one of these activities may simply amount to conversation among friends. Taken together, it looks like journalism.

The difference between a witness and a citizen journalist

My previous reporting on citizen journalism has me thinking that there’s a ladder of journalistic activities, starting at the bottom with actions that are not uniquely journalistic.

Let’s start at the bottom of the ladder: witnessing something newsworthy. That alone doesn’t make you a citizen journalist.

The next level up would be sharing what you witnessed. In the past, we were limited in how we did this. No one called it citizen journalism if you told your friends about the bank robbery you saw.

But digital publishing tools like blogs, Twitter, Flickr and Ustream mean that simply by sharing something, you act as a publisher. So if you’re Janis Krums and tweet a photo of a U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River, you’re acting both as a witness and a publisher.

Other activities move you further up the ladder: seeking corroborating evidence, interviewing people, vetting sources, confirming information before sharing it, analyzing what happened, providing context. Each one is a specialized type of journalistic activity.

Journalism in plain view

In the professional journalism model that existed until recently, the only evidence of this work was the final product. The story or news package was the tip of the iceberg above the water; everything else was below the surface.

Twitter has enabled journalists – professionals and amateurs – to do this work in plain sight. The means of newsgathering can be the means of publishing, and both types of tweets are intermingled. The tweets are journalism — simultaneously process and end product.

Some have taken to calling NPR’s Andy Carvin a one-man news agency because he has modeled this public-facing form of newsgathering and publishing: finding sources, retweeting first-person accounts, asking people how they know things, seeking confirmation and verification and adding occasional commentary.

I don’t think Sohaib Athar’s work a few nights ago is as deliberate or effective as Carvin’s. An amateur slugger probably won’t hit a home run off a major league pitcher, but they’re both playing baseball.

If Carvin’s a professional journalist, Athar is a citizen journalist. (And if you don’t think Carvin’s a journalist, then perhaps your definition of journalism relies too heavily on tools like a typewriter and a notepad, rather than activities, no matter how they’re conducted.)

What becomes of the citizen journalist after the news event has passed?

In the hours after Athar’s role was discovered, he gained about 85,000 Twitter followers. SF Weekly’s Mitchell questions whether the massive increase in Athar’s followers makes him a citizen journalist. On its own, it doesn’t. But his large following means he now has a distribution network, which he can use however he likes.

And in the days after the raid, he decided to use it to act like a journalist, posting photos of the compound and of the media covering the story.

Mitchell notes this, but questions its significance: “That is cool, but now the place is swarming with reporters with much better equipment and access to better information.”

I’m not sure that the reporters who have swarmed into Abbottabad have “better information.” Athar himself has noted how the media has misreported facts relating to his town and his tweets about the raid.

As for tools, with every passing month, more journalists are using consumer devices to do their jobs. These devices lower the cost of newsgathering and enable self-publication. Why do we celebrate this when professionals use these tools in this way and denigrate it when regular people do?

Professionals vs. amateurs

I’m starting to think that professional journalists get more caught up with the “citizen journalist” label than the citizen journalists themselves. Perhaps “citizen journalists vs. journalists” is the new “bloggers vs. journalistsdebate.

Sometimes people’s glee about the power of social media and new forms of journalism looks a lot like a celebration of the decline of professional journalism. We shouldn’t extrapolate that to mean that there is a competition between emerging and longstanding forms of media, in which one side must win and the other lose. (That doesn’t mean that the professionalization of amateurs doesn’t have an impact on the people who do this work for a living.)

What Athar did was journalistic. Social media brought it to the attention of professional journalists, who wrote about what he observed. Some of these stories simply noted that he heard some of the sounds of the raid. Others focused on the changing ways that we become informed about our world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of works of journalism were created as these professionals brought the news to their audiences.

Athar added to the body of knowledge. We know more about the raid, and about how people share information, because of him. That’s a good thing. No news consumers lost out here, whether they’re CNN viewers or Athar’s followers. And no professionals did, either. Read more


Obama on bin Laden photo decision: ‘We don’t need to spike the football’

Romenesko Misc.
“60 Minutes” has released a partial transcript of its interview with President Obama, which airs on Sunday. “It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head — are not floating around– as– an incitement to additional violence,” he says. “As a propaganda tool. You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.” || Read New York Times’ story on the decision. Read more


Do we want a ‘narrative,’ or reliable facts about bin Laden’s death?

Something interesting has happened since news broke that Osama bin Laden had been shot and killed. We have already received different accounts from government officials about what happened during the American raid on the compound in Pakistan.

These accounts are being referred to as “narratives,” and some journalists are concerned with the implications and connotations of that word. NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd tweeted that he found it “odd and a tad troubling” that the Department of Defense has used the word in such a way.

In a live chat, which you can replay below, I talked with Ben Montgomery, a narrative writer at Poynter’s St. Petersburg Times, about the use of the word narrative, and how it differs from a report.

When we hear the word report, we think of a vehicle for conveying information. A report contains at least some of the five Ws. A report is also written with language that is unloaded. A report is subject to verification by independent parties.

A “narrative” is something completely different. A narrative connotes story, expressed in scenes, moving in time, and communicated by a narrator, a storyteller. A narrative can be truthful, of course, as in the phrase nonfiction narrative. But its purpose is not to inform. A narrative is a form of vicarious experience, a virtual reality that transports us from the here and now to some distant place called Abbottabad.

The earlier narratives described bin Laden firing a weapon and using some woman as a “human shield.” Later versions said he had no weapon, and that a woman was injured trying to protect him.

This topic of the difference between report and narrative is essential to our understanding of how government uses and abuses language, and how journalists hold them accountable.

You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat.

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=dda9df3960″ mce_href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=dda9df3960″ >Do we want a ‘narrative’ or reliable facts about bin Laden’s death?</a> Read more

Photographers take pictures of U.S. President Barack Obama after he announced live on television the death of Osama bin Laden, from the East Room of the White House in Washington May 1, 2011. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Reuters, AP photojournalists describe staging of Obama photo

Editor’s note: On May 12, news broke that the White House had decided to stop its practice of re-enacting photos for still photographers. Our story on that decision is here. Below is Poynter.org’s original story on this issue.

Until Wednesday, the White House debated whether to release photos showing Osama bin Laden’s body. In theory, the photos would be proof to any doubters that the terrorist is dead. But not all photos can be believed — not even when they seem to show the president of the United States making a historic speech.

Reuters White House photographer Jason Reed describes how the president made his speech to a single TV camera, then immediately after finishing, he pretended to speak for the still cameras.

Reed writes:

“As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent. Once Obama was off the air, we were escorted in front of that teleprompter and the President then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”

That means the photograph that appeared in many newspapers Monday morning of Obama speaking may have been the staged shot, captured after the president spoke. This type of staging has been going on for decades.

This is the cutline transmitted with this AP photo: “President Barack Obama reads his statement to photographers after making a televised statement on the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, May 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)”

John Harrington, president of the White House News Photographers Association, tells me that the Obama Administration has used this technique before and they are not the first.

“I am aware of it happening in previous administrations. I believe Bush 41 [George H.W. Bush] did it too,” Harrington says. “The times where I have known of it happening before is when the president is in the Oval Office and you are working in a very tight space.”

Other photographers who work at the White House told Poynter.org that since the Reagan era (and possibly before) it has been the standard operating procedure that during a live presidential address, still cameras are not allowed to photograph the actual event.

“AP understands why the still photographers are not allowed into the live address area and the captions disclose that these are re-enactment situations as well,” says David Ake, the Associated Press’ assistant bureau chief for photos in Washington.

Because of the noise from the camera shutters and the placement of the teleprompter, “we are not able to photograph those events.”

Senior AP Staff Photographer Pablo Martinez Monsivais was called in from vacation on Sunday to cover the White House announcement.

The AP’s Pablo Martinez Monsivais, who took this photo, told Poynter, “What was very unique this time was that the White House actually allowed the still press photography pool to photograph the president’s ‘walk in’ so that images could be distributed prior to the late, 11:45 p.m. address.”

“There is nothing that we do as photojournalists that is unethical” about this, he says. “We fully disclose in our captions that this is a re-enactment, after the live announcement. We put that in.”

“The statement for the photographers took place two to three minutes after the live speech and it happened very quickly — extremely fast — with each photographer rotating into the center position.”

Doug Mills, New York Times photojournalist and former Associated Press staffer, says it has been done this way “always, always … well, as long as I have covered the White House, going back to the Reagan administration. We [still photographers] have never, never, never, ever been allowed to cover a live presidential address to the nation!”

Poynter’s Senior Faculty for Visual Journalism, Kenny Irby, explains, “The most obvious concern is noise. The 35mm cameras emit shutter noise, that would be multiplied by several photographers and increased by the echo which resonates off of the marble floors. The other visual distraction is the placement of the teleprompter that impedes the photographers’ line of sight to the president.”

Harrington says there are alternatives to staging the photographs.

As video images are increasingly detailed, it is easier to use screen captures that meet still photograph standards. He also points to devices like the “Jacobson blimp,” which he demonstrates in a YouTube video.

The blimp is a hard case with a cut-out for the camera and a remote control that allows a photographer to capture images while the case mutes the sound of the camera. Harrington says other photographers have customized still cameras to make them quieter. In fact, a camera was customized to take an unusual photo of Obama during his inauguration.

Photographers take pictures of U.S. President Barack Obama after he announced live on television the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 1, 2011. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

But this practice of re-enacting a historic speech flies directly in the face of the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics, which includes this relevant passage: “Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.”

Harrington says, “I know we are splitting hairs here, but the White House photographers covering those re-enactments did not stage, request or direct them. They are covering an event. They photograph what they are presented with.”

Harrington says the re-enactment is an alternative to just handing out a White House photo. “Obviously you should refer to it as a re-enactment in the cutline of the photo; it does need to be disclosed.”

Both Reuters and the AP did disclose the re-enactment in the cutlines they transmitted with photos. For example, the AP cutline reads:

“President Barack Obama reads his statement to photographers after making a televised statement on the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, May 1, 2011.”

However, not all newspapers reprinted those disclosures.

Some newspapers disclose

Poynter’s Library Director David Shedden searched 50 newspaper front pages from Monday morning to see if papers that used the staged image disclosed it. Keep in mind, newsrooms were scrambling to create new front pages late Sunday evening.

This cutline was transmitted with this Reuters photo: “U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured after announcing live on television the death of Osama bin Laden, from the East Room of the White House in Washington May 1, 2011. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, President Obama announced on Sunday.” (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Some newspapers that we viewed used both the AP photo and its cutline, which disclosed the image’s origins.

The Wausau Daily Herald, Wisconsin State Journal, Biloxi Sun Herald, Lodi News-Sentinel, Yuma Sun, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Wichita Eagle and The Orange County Register used the AP photo and its cutline (or a variation).

The Orlando Sentinel page simply states, “President Barack Obama is shown after his announcement about Osama bin Laden Sunday.” The San Jose Mercury News had a similar caption with a Getty image.

Thirty other front pages we reviewed used an AP, Reuters or Getty photo, credited appropriately, with a caption that implied or strongly suggested it was an image of the live address.

The remaining nine front pages don’t say where the photos came from; although several look like the re-enactments, they could be screen captures from the live address.

What should happen next

It is time for this kind of re-enactment to end. The White House should value truth and authenticity. The technology clearly exists to document important moments without interrupting them. Photojournalists and their employers should insist on and press for access to document these historic moments.

In the meantime, anyone who uses these recreations should clearly disclose to the reader the circumstances under which they were captured.

Kenny Irby conducted interviews with David Ake, Pablo Martinez Monsivais and Doug Mills for this report. He also received the photos we used and obtained permission to reprint them here. David Shedden researched front pages. Thanks to Charles Apple, whose post on this subject inspired our reporting.

To learn more about making ethical decisions on deadline, take this free, self-directed NewsU course. Read more


What makes ‘Situation Room’ photo so compelling

Women’s Wear Daily
“As a moment of time captured, it’s very powerful,” says Bloomberg Businessweek creative director Richard Turley. “It’s quite a human picture isn’t it: The way Obama kind of tucked himself into the corner, the body language on everyone.” Newsweek photo director Scott Hall tells John Koblin: “What’s most interesting to me about this photo is what you’re not seeing. The mystery of what’s happening off camera is captured wholly in the expression on Hillary’s face.” || Associated Press: What exactly were they watching on that video screen? || More from Joel Achenbach.
A Reuters shooter on racing to the WH to record history Read more

In this publicity image released by NBC, Jimmy Fallon, host of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," portrays Donald Trump during a public address about the demise of al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, during a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," airing Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 12:35 a.m. on NBC. (NBC, Lloyd Bishop/AP)

Springtime for bin Laden: Why we use humor to neutralize evil

When I look back on the days following the 9/11 attacks on America, I remember feeling that irony and satire were dead, that nothing would ever seem funny again. Hey, we got over it.

Nearly 10 years later, Osama bin Laden is dead. The announcement by the president — and the subsequent reporting on the military operation that killed him — has sparked a revival of nationalist euphoria across generations and ideological lines. Some of this has been expressed with sober pride. There has also been a good deal of chanting “USA,” of flag waving, of dancing on the dead man’s grave.

“I feel a little guilty,” said my wife Karen, “for feeling so happy about somebody dying.” She is a better person than I am.

Between somber reflection and grave dancing resides an ancient reflex — humor. We cannot resist the urge to turn the bogeyman into a clown. In dramatic literature, this impulse goes back at least to the Middle Ages where devils and other demons were often played for comic effect. They might drag damned souls into the hellmouth, but they did it with a fart and a song.

This tradition has survived for more than 500 years. As evidence, check out this scene of political satire from that tasteless animated puppet movie, “Team America: World Police.” Arab terrorists and the oh-so-lonely leader of North Korea are played for laughs.

In this publicity image released by NBC, Jimmy Fallon, host of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” portrays Donald Trump during a public address about the demise of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, during a taping of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” airing Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 12:35 a.m. on NBC. (NBC, Lloyd Bishop/AP)

The last two days have inspired a run of dark bin Laden humor.  While many examples can be found online,  mainstream entertainers jumped right in as well. In his monologue, Jay Leno said there was already a problem for bin Laden in the afterlife:  Due to a typographical error, the lanky terrorist  was presented with 72 vegans. David Letterman devoted his entire Top Ten list to bin Laden’s last words. Number one on the list was “Oh, crap!”

Wherever bin Laden winds up in the tyrants hall of shame, surely he will not rank as evil as Adolf Hitler, so it should not surprise us that history has left us many now-famous examples of satire humor directed at the Fuhrer and his cronies.

During World War II, American propaganda efforts included parodies of the Third Reich from the likes of Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin,  and the Three Stooges. The crown jewel of such caricature came from Mel Brooks, first in the 1968 movie version of “The Producers” and then in the Broadway musical.

Brooks’s original Hitler is more flower child than Fuhrer. The anthem “Springtime for Hitler” defies good taste. And who can forget when the high-kicking chorus girls goose-step into the shape of a swastika?

There are dangers, of course, in such fierce satire, and journalists should attend to them as part of the continuing coverage of the death of bin Laden and its aftermath.

  • Caricature depends, we all know, upon exaggeration of features, a distortion that often leads us –  laughing — to the brink of bad taste and ethnic stereotyping.
  • Humor is the strategy that often gives a speaker or author a chance to express difficult truths about a person or a group. But that license can be abused.  When it is, the speaker should be held accountable.
  • It always helps to remember that humor reflects not only on the quirks of the target, but also on the character of the humorist.
  • While many citizens, including journalists, will get caught up in pride and patriotic fervor, a healthy skepticism remains the reporter’s best friend.  Remember WMD? Remember the Annie Oakley mythologizing of war prisoner Pvt. Jessica Lynch?
  • Prepare for the facts surrounding the death of bin Laden to change, not just from the delusions of conspiracy theorists, but also from responsible sources weighing the evidence. One account had bin Laden holding up a woman as a human shield;  another described a woman — possibly his wife — throwing herself in front of bin Laden to protect him.

As an American, I know which version I prefer. It’s one that portrays bin Laden as a coward until the very moment of his death.

It’s that sentiment, however irrational, that also makes me want to laugh even though someone has died. I won’t be dancing on his grave. But then, I can’t walk on water. Read more

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