Accuracy in Media

The photo of President Obama’s national security team watching the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound isn’t all that it appears to be.

According to the Telegraph, CIA director Leon Panetta admitted that there was no live video footage of the raid as the specially mounted helmet cameras had been cut off.

In an interview with PBS, Mr Panetta said: “Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

If that was the case what was the national security team looking at? As it turns out it was just another photo op staged by the White House for dramatic effect and it resonated around the world.

Women’s Wear Daily was duly impressed by the photo and asked other photographers for their reactions:

Here, photography editors and designers explain why the picture is destined to be one for the history books:

Richard Turley, creative director, Bloomberg Businessweek
“I don’t think it’s something that you would look at as an incredible piece of photography, but as a moment of time captured, it’s very powerful.…It’s quite a human picture isn’t it: The way Obama kind of tucked himself into the corner, the body language on everyone.…It’s weight is in your own baggage of the picture, your own prior knowledge about what’s going on and what they’re looking at.”

Dora Somosi, director of photography, GQ
“It really is the two faces, between Obama’s intensity and Hillary Clinton’s surprise and shock, or whatever the hand covering the mouth is. That’s where your eye goes. She may not have had her hand over her mouth a second later, but [the photographer] did catch a moment. I think it’s about those two people and catching their unguarded reaction.…I think it’s further validated by the document that’s in front of Hillary that’s been wiped out a bit because it’s classified information. That makes you feel that you have an insider view.”

Kira Pollack, director of photography for Time
“The Hillary Clinton expression is the one that holds the photograph fully. The reaction of her hand over her face. Her eyes. Clearly, she’s reacting to something she’s watching. She’s very unaware she’s being photographed. To me, the whole image is about Hillary. In some ways, she holds the image. You look at her first, and then you look at everyone else. That instinctive reaction that must have happened for her hand to go over her mouth like that? There must be something powerful on that screen.…The other thing about this picture that we all find fascinating is that the document that is blurred. It’s one more element of what’s in that room. How extraordinary is it that we’re seeing inside that room?”

History book alright. The book of fake photos.

And as for that dramatic reaction by Hillary Clinton, New York magazine got the real scoop:

“I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs,” she said. “So, it may have no great meaning whatsoever.”

Powerful  indeed. Next time bring along some cough drops.





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