Murder on Haifa Street: An Update

I’ve been contacted by business reporter Mark Glassman of the New York Times regarding our comments on the AP’s Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. The Times is planning on running a short business/media story on the controversy over the photo and the award in tomorrow’s edition.
Mr. Glassman originally contacted me by email, then spoke with me by telephone. In our telephone conversations he told me that the AP director of photography told him the photographer was 50 meters from the scene of the assassination; the AP has asserted elsewhere in this April 6 Editor & Publisher story that the photographer was 300 meters from the murders. Mr. Glassman asked whether I had any additonal comments on the controversy. After sending him the email message this afternoon, he replied with a link to this AP statement on the circumstances under which the photograph was taken that I was previously unaware of: “The story behind the photo.” (The AP statement describes a tip from a fellow photographe regarding a car bombing on Haifa Street, and the AP stringer’s happening onto the murder scene.) Here is the email message I sent him this afternoon:

In writing about the Pulitzer award to the AP on our site, I quoted John Hinderaker’s previous Power Line post at length on the photograph at the time the photograph was originally published. John’s post was based on the two AP-sourced statements quoted in his post regarding the photo. My comment on the Pulitzer award to the AP cannot be understood outside the context of these AP-sourced statements or of John’s comments on these statements. One AP-sourced statement quoted by John said that the photographer was likely “tipped off to a demonstration that was supposed to take place on Haifa Street” but “would not have had foreknowledge” of a violent event like an execution. The other AP-sourced statement was from Jack Stokes — the AP’s director of media relations — to Jim Romenesko responding to the controversy regarding this photograph. Stokes’s statement suggested a collaborative relationship between AP photographers and terrorists who “want their stories told” and “are willing to let Iraqi photographers take their photos.” Stokes’s statement to Romenesko is crucial. John commented at length on these AP-sourced quotes in drawing an inference that the AP was happy to cooperate with the terrorists’ apparent desire to be photographed by the AP committing the murders and also alluded to the apparent proximity of the photographer to the murders, stating that the terrorists “could have shot him on Sunday if they were unhappy about having their picture taken.”
In the April 6 Editor & Publisher story about the photo, the AP says our comments are ridiculous and that its photographer was 300 meters from the murders. You told me yesterday that the AP has told you its photographer was 50 meters from the murders. What you told me is more consistent with our comments on the photo (and in the ballpark with the analysis of D. Gorton below).
You asked if I have anything else to add. I do. In correspondence that we have not posted on the site, we sought the expert opinion of the prominent former New York Times photographer D. Gorton regarding the photograph. Mr. Gorton’s analysis of the photo is consistent with our comments regarding the photo on the site and with our interpretation of the quoted AP statements. Here is Mr. Gorton’s analysis:

Bear in mind that the Pulitzer Prize names the “Associated Press Staff”. I would think that is the way that the AP entered the images into competition and thus started the controversy.
If the picture was a “pick up” then it should have labeled as such since meaningful control of the editorial function does not reach to “pick up” photos. Anyone, including a terrorist, can offer up pictures with a dubious or malicious provenance.
I also want to mention that the lack of videotape (am I correct?)argues against the S.O.P. of the terrorists. I have seen videos of IEDs made by terrorists as well as the notorious Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg videotapes. So, video and not still photography appears to be the propaganda weapon of choice. None of this is conclusive of course, and the AP could go a long way in clearing up the mystery.
The Photo shows a street scene, identified in the press as Haifa Rd., where three armed men are moving around two men who are respectively kneeling or lying prone on the ground. The men on the ground are both wearing kerchefs of red and white, perhaps an identification of some
The armed men are moving with some energy, note the foot off the ground of the figure on the left as well as the twisting body language of the other two men.
The event appears to have been unfolding for some time, since the kneeling man and prone man are still and have assumed positions that I presume they were ordered to take. The traffic back up, however, does not appear to have been collecting for a great deal of time, and I understand that Haifa Rd. is a “busy” street. Perhaps they were dragged into the middle of the street from curbside.
The photographer is elevated. Though there appears to be some curving away of the road in the background, the drop in elevation towards the foreground does not appear to account for the placement of the camera. If the photographer were at “eye level”, that is on the same plane as the subjects, then the terrorist figures would appear to be much higher in relation to the autos in the background. I note that the stopped cars and trucks in the background appear to have people standing in some of the truck beds, though there are no pedestrians. I assume that a similar scene unfolded behind the camera, meaning that witnesses could observe the scene from other trucks and vehicles. So, I would guess that the elevation is from the back of a truck. Its also possible that there were other small structures such as berms that one could stand on.
Lenses on cameras not only focus the image but they may magnify or diminish the apparent size of a scene. A “normal lens” is one whose focal length is equivalent to the diagonal of the film used in the camera. For instance a 50mm focal length lens on a “35mm film” camera is roughly “normal” since the diagonal of the film stock is 43.27mm. When you increase the focal length of the lens (or decrease the film size) an apparent “compression” of the image occurs. This is always a little hard to understand at first. If I take a “normal” scene of a crowd with my 50mm lens on a 35mm camera and make a “normal” enlargement then the scene appears much as I saw it with the naked eye.
But, if I rack up the enlarger to the ceiling and “blow up” a tiny portion of the scene, then that portion appears “compressed.” People’s heads are sticking out behind each other and the “head sizes” are all very similar even though they are further away in reality. That’s roughly what a telephoto lens does.
We do not have the original photo to make a judgment about. It is difficult to tell if the image has been enlarged, or if it has degraded through numerous duplications. However, assuming that this is the original dimension of the finished photo, I would estimate that the lens is the rough equivalent of a 180mm lens on a 35mm format. I would estimate the distance between 15 and 25 meters. The distance would be the same if the lens were “normal” but an enlargement of the print had occurred. This may be a “blow up,” in other words.
Leaving aside the ethical specifics of this situation, if I knew that an event was about to occur that included possible violence, I would do exactly what it appears the photographer did in making this picture:
(1) I would choose an elevated mobile platform where I had an unobstructed view of the scene, and where I had maneuverability to observe as well as rapid exit…such as a pick up truck
(2) I would be at enough distance to be somewhat protected and inconspicuous
(3) I would choose a medium telephoto lens that could be hand held in a moving vehicle, yet give me large enough images to be clearly recognizable.
So, the assassination picture has all the earmarks of a planned image, indicating that the photographer had taken most of the considerations that I have written about above.
It’s also possible that a passing Iraqi, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, carrying a Nikon with a 180mm lens happened onto the scene, made a few snaps and dropped them off at the AP office in the Green Zone of Baghdad.

Please note Mr. Gorton’s opinion that the photo “has all the earmarks of a planned image.” His estimate of the distance from camera to subject also belies the AP’s assertion to Editor & Publisher that it was 300 meters. The AP statement to you of 50 meters brings it far closer to Mr. Gorton’s analysis.
Mr. Gorton has been shown another — uncropped — version of the photo. He states:

There is nothing about this alternate version that would trouble my initial analysis. It is common in the news photo business to make the image as direct and powerful as possible through enlargement of the original. I believe in my response to you that I pointed out that the picture appeared to be a “blow up.”
I pointed out [to the person who showed him the uncropped photo] that the photo depicts a lynching . Lynchings are always local and specific. Their purpose is “educational” in that the lynchers want as wide a distribution of the event as possible. In other words, lynchings fail if they do not have the implicit or explicit support of the media. Murder, largely a private and furtive act, and lynching are quite different phenomena. Lynching demands an audience. This, with the distribution of the images through the AP, was a successful lynching.
Viewed in this light, I believe that collusion between the terrorists and the news media is quite possible. It certainly happened in the US. Why would Iraq be different?
The photo appeared to portray an insurgency that “controlled the streets” of Baghdad, where the insurgents could kill with impunity. In a similar vein, many of the Southern lynching photos that we have studied give a similar message. Their purpose, in part, was to dispirit and undermine attempts to ensure equal rights in the US South, along with terrorizing African Americans and their allies. It is profoundly ironic that the lynched men in the AP photo were voter registration/election workers. It recalls to me and my wife our work in the Southern civil rights movement.
In 196[4] as we traveled to Mississippi for Freedom Summer, we learned that 3 of our colleagues had been killed. Though they were not “lynched” in the public way that the men on Haifa Street were, the message was that we were all going to die as we sought to register black Americans to vote. We defied that terrorist threat and the accomplishments of the Civil Rights era are now history.
Isn’t that what has happened in Iraq in the past year?

Finally, Mr. Gorton responded to an emailer’s assertion (that appears to have been based on the April 6 Editor & Publisher story) that the photographer was 300 meters away from the murders. Mr. Gorton commented:

Ultimately we get to the facts as opposed to the suppositions. The proximity of the photographer on Haifa Street becomes a contested fact, one that you say that Power Line got “wildly wrong.” The idea is that “closeness” to the action implies a collusion (or familiarity) on the part of the photographer. In the main, that is correct. So the distance from the scene is crucial.
I have run a series of calculations that indicate that the photographer was within 15-25 meters of the scene. If you like I can let you know what my thinking was in making that assessment. As to the statement that the photographer was 300 meters from the scene, I have to say that is doubtful to the point of impossible. I can run the calculations or you can, I’m sure, by determining the field of view of lenses on a 35 mm camera. To gain an image like that from almost a 1,000 yards [I think he must mean feet here] would require a telephoto lens of such length, and weight, that it could not be handled in a breaking news event. Indeed, I doubt that the AP even owns a lens that would accomplish that feat, much less entrust it in a volatile zone like Haifa St…
My views, of course, stand to be corrected. If you find someone who is knowledgeable about lens, field of view, and staffing in a war one who has better information, please let me know.

Thank you for contacting me and for the opportunity to put my comments in context. I ask that if you quote my Power Line comments in your story, you place them in this context.

We have forwarded the AP’s statement on the circumstances under which the Haifa Street photo was shot to Mr. Gorton for comment. The AP has not identified the photographer, produced him for interview, or disclosed any information other than that set out in its most recent statement. To our knowledge the AP has yet to acknowledge or reconcile its statements of last December regarding the photo in issue, or its conflicting statements on the distance of the photographer from the scene of the crime.
JOHN adds: Talk about a memory hole! The point of my original post was simply to note that two AP spokesmen, in commenting on the photograph, appeared to confirm the criticism of the photo that was first voiced by Wretchard of the Belmont Club. At that time, instead of denying that the photographer was on the scene because the terrorists wanted him there, the AP acknowledged that he was likely “tipped,” but only to a demonstration, not to a murder. And a second AP spokesman, Jack Stokes, certainly seemed to confirm the symbiotic relationship between photographer and terrorists that Wretchard had alleged. This was the email he sent Jim Romansko in response to Romanesko’s request for a comment on the photograph:

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.

It certainly appears from the photo that the terrorists were “let[ting]” the photographer “take their pictures,” and I understood the AP’s two statements as confirmation that that was what was going on. My concluding sentence was, “Am I missing something, or has the AP now admitted everything it was charged with by Wretchard?”
Now, it’s possible that Jack Stokes, the AP’s director of media relations, was incorrect. But for the AP to express outrage that we thought there was collusion between the photographer and the terrorists, without even acknowledging that we based that conclusion on the AP’s own statements to that effect, is ridiculous.
It’s interesting, by the way, that the AP statement linked to above does not say that the photographer took the picture from 300 meters away, as the Editor & Publisher article does. The AP statement says that the burning car that the photographer first took pictures of was 300 meters from what became the murder scene. It says nothing about how far away from the murder scene the photographer was when he took the pictures of it. Given that the AP told the Times reporter that the photographer was only 50 meters away, is it possible that the 300 meter reference in the Editor & Publisher story was the result of a misunderstanding?
UPDATE: See also “A postscript from D. Gorton” above.


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