Three news agencies on Tuesday rejected challenges to the veracity of photographs of bodies taken in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon, strongly denying that the images were staged.
Photographers from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse all covered rescue operations Sunday in Qana, where 56 Lebanese were killed. Many of their photos depicted rescue workers carrying dead children.
A British Web site, the EU Referendum blog, built an argument that chicanery may have been involved by citing time stamps that went with captions of the photographs.
For example, the Web site draws attention to a photo by AP’s Lefteris Pitarakis time stamped 7:21 a.m., showing a dead girl in an ambulance. Another picture, stamped 10:25 a.m. and taken by AP’s Mohammed Zaatari, shows the same girl being loaded onto the ambulance. In a third, by AP photographer Nasser Nasser and stamped 10:44 a.m., a rescue worker carries the girl with no ambulance nearby.
Participating in propaganda?
The site suggests these events were staged for effect, a criticism echoed by talk show host Rush Limbaugh when he directed listeners to the blog on Monday.
“These photographers are obviously willing to participate in propaganda,” Limbaugh said. “They know exactly what’s being done, all these photos, bringing the bodies out of the rubble, posing them for the cameras, it’s all staged. Every bit of it is staged and the still photographers know it.”
The AP said information from its photo editors showed the events were not staged, and that the time stamps could be misleading for several reasons, including that web sites can use such stamps to show when pictures are posted, not taken. An AFP executive said he was stunned to be questioned about it. Reuters, in a statement, said it categorically rejects any such suggestion.
“It’s hard to imagine how someone sitting in an air-conditioned office or broadcast studio many thousands of miles from the scene can decide what occurred on the ground with any degree of accuracy,” said Kathleen Carroll, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor.
Carroll said in addition to personally speaking with photo editors, “I also know from 30 years of experience in this business that you can’t get competitive journalists to participate in the kind of (staging) experience that is being described.”
Stunned by the question
Photographers are experienced in recognizing when someone is trying to stage something for their benefit, she said.
“Do you really think these people would risk their lives under Israeli shelling to set up a digging ceremony for dead Lebanese kids?” asked Patrick Baz, Mideast photo director for AFP. “I’m totally stunned by first the question, and I can’t imagine that somebody would think something like that would have happened.”
The AP had three different photographers there who weren’t always aware of what the others were doing, and filed their images to editors separately, said Santiago Lyon, director of photography.
There are also several reasons not to draw conclusions from time stamps, Lyon said. Following a news event like this, the AP does not distribute pictures sequentially; photos are moved based on news value and how quickly they are available for an editor to transmit.
The AP indicates to its members when they are sent on the wire, and member Web sites sometimes use a different time stamp to show when they are posted.