Questioning the President’s Photo

As has everyone, I’ve been looking at images and reading stories in between classes (the last of the semester) all day. It’s fascinating – there’s almost as much coverage of the event as there has been of how the event was covered.

(I freely admit that may just be the way I’m gravitating as a recovering journalist.)

But this post by Reuters photojournalist Jason Reed stopped me dead in my tracks and has my head spinning. The captions Reuters sent out are accurate – the photos of President Obama speaking were shot after he delivered his ten minute talk Sunday night.


He did the talk for TV, then posed for photos:

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.


I did a quick search to see if any of the published photos of the president speaking say that they were re-enacted or staged. So far, I haven’t found any captions that say that. Some write creatively around it (USA Today says, “President Obama Speaks Sunday night,” with an AP credit), but none say it was staged.


On another day I will express my outrage at this better. Not today, though.

UPDATE: The Memphis Commercial Appeal ran the Associated Press photograph with this caption:

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)

Still disturbing, but at least some news organizations were honest in how they handled the photo.

Mark E. Johnson

2 Responses

  1. I’ll try to take some time tomorrow to research it and give references, but the fact is Presidential photo ops of speeches have ALWAYS been staged, either before or after the actual event, because the noise of the still gear and the number of photographers admitted (three wires, magazine and newspaper pool photographers at the very least) would disturb the actual broadcast or (in older times) filming. Seriously, do you really think that photographers were in the room with Speed Graphics and flash bulbs shooting while FDR gave Fireside Chats?

    Is this ethical? Well, the speech itself is a staged event, so staging it again is, what, a gross misrepresentation of what happened?

  2. I’m sure this has been done before – and for all the reasons Bruce lists. But it just seems particularly egregious to me at this point in time. There are ways of handling the noise, through either mufflers or distance or proper micing.

    As for the whole speech being staged, I agree that it is. And if he were to deliver the entire thing again, maybe I wouldn’t have as much of a problem. But to re-enact 30 seconds of it … it feels deceptive. And, while I’m not surprised it happened, I was surprised at the seeming willingness of at least one wire service to participate and talk about it so nonchalantly.

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