Corrupting our sight 2
Michelle Malkin has a long report which is an extended indictment of the stringer system in Iraq. She begins by reporting that an AP photographer who was part of the photographic team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for taking, among others, the photo of an election worker being murdered on Baghdad's Haifa Street was arrested in Ramadi.
Michelle Malkin says:
One member of the Pulitzer-winning AP team was AP stringer Bilal Hussein. ... According to my tipster, Hussein was captured earlier today by American forces in a building in Ramadi, Iraq, with a cache of weapons. I am still awaiting a response from the DOD's Combined Press Information Center and a Public Affairs Officer in Ramadi.
Mr. Hussein has apparently been associated with three questionable photographs discussed in a recent National Journal article by Neil Munro; a possible staged funeral and two pictures featuring a segment of track from a US armored vehicle used as a prop in possibly posed battle scenes. One of the most interesting pictures taken by Bilal Hussein is of the body of Italian hostage Salvatore Santoro. Al Jazeera explains how Santoro was killed and how his picture came to be taken.
Friday 17 December 2004, 10:18 Makka Time, 7:18 GMT -- An Italian captive identified as Salvatore Santoro has been killed by his captors in Iraq, Aljazeera reported. Aljazeera on Thursday broadcast pictures of Santoro's passport and showed him sitting bound and blindfolded in a ditch with a gun to his head. In separate footage, four masked and armed men were shown reading a statement. ... The Italian foreign ministry said an Iraqi photographer had been shown a passport and body that could be Santoro's. ... A group of people took the photographer to Ramadi, in western Iraq, "where they showed him the body of a man and a passport.
Photographs of Santoro's body credited to AP/Bilal Hussein can be found here. The Al-Jazeera video showing Santoro can be found here. Juxtaposing Bilal Hussein's stills with the video yields the montage below. As can be seen from the shadow cast by the corpse?, Bilal's stills and the video were taken within a short time of each other. Perhaps Santoro was already dead when the video was taken or Hussein was very close at hand to take the still after Santoro was killed. It's impossible for me to tell.
Bill Roggio has a major post on an insurgent attack on Ramadi that possibly never was.
Last weekend, several news sources, including the Associated Press and CNN, reported a major insurgent attack on the provincial government headquarters in the heart of Ramadi. ... The purported incident in Ramadi never made the press releases at either Multinational Forces-Iraq or CENTCOM. The Associated Press has a reporter (Todd Pitman) embedded with the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. Mr. Pitman's blog is called AP Blog From Ramadi, Iraq, and the site has not been updated since April 7th. An inquiry to Captain Alfred Smith, the Public Affairs Officer from the 2/28th Brigade Combat Team, which runs Ramadi, produced the following reply; "There was some action , a little more active than the norm but just another day for us." This Week in Iraq, a Coalition bulletin, has a brief description of a fight in Ramadi but nothing like the media accounts.
A reader in Holland notes some curiosities between a video from last weekend's purported Ramadi attack taken on April 8th and a photograph taken in Ramadi on March 14th. Study the video, then the photo, and you will see both of these images were taken at the exact same street corner in Ramadi, and shot from an identical angle. Note the awning, the poles, the two 'booths', even the stance of the 'insurgents' and the direction which they are firing. This is without a doubt the same street corner in Ramadi. The video and photo are obviously taken at two different points in time (note the umbrella in the video, as well as the different dress of the insurgents). (You'll have to watch the video to get the full effect as I was unable to capture a screen shot for a photo comparison.)
The Haifa Street photograph was the subject of several posts at the old Belmont Club site (www.BelmontClub.blogspot.com). Readers can go here, here, here to read them. The basic problem with the picture was the improbability that an AP stringer should be present at exactly the right time and place to take the picture shown above. The Odds Against post said:
It may have been pure luck, but it was surely the longest of odds that would have brought an Associated Press cameraman to the site of a surprise attack on two Iraqi electoral workers.
The more details emerged the stranger the photograph grew. The post Haifa Street noted the amazing ability of the AP stringer to take the picture in the middle of reported firing by 30 insurgents -- a description provided by the AP itself.
According to Abdul Hussein Al-Obedi of the Associated Press:
During morning rush hour, about 30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns, swarmed onto Haifa Street, the scene of repeated clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents. They stopped a car carrying five employees of the Iraqi Electoral Commission and killed three of them. The other two escaped. The commission condemned the attack as a "terrorist ambush." ...
The photographer(s) had supposedly blundered on the scene without expecting to meet gunplay. The same Haifa Street post quoted Salon:
A source at the Associated Press knowledgeable about the events covered in Baghdad on Sunday told Salon that accusations that the photographer was aware of the militants' plans are "ridiculous." The photographer, whose identity the AP is withholding due to safety concerns, was likely "tipped off to a demonstration that was supposed to take place on Haifa Street," said the AP source, who was not at liberty to comment by name. But the photographer "definitely would not have had foreknowledge" of a violent event like an execution, the source said.
But, met with "30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns" the photographer was equal to the task.
Here was where the killers really lucked out. The AP photographer, though caught at unawares, who definitely had no "foreknowledge" of what was going down and at the worst expected a street demonstration, did not take cover, even as soldiers and Marines are trained to do when shooting starts. He was made of sterner stuff and held his ground, taking pictures of people he did not know killing individuals he did not recognize for reasons he would not have known about. This -- in the midst of "30 armed insurgents, hurling hand grenades and firing guns" -- as the Associated Press report says.
There was extensive commentary by readers about the where and how far the photographer had to be in relation to the 30 men firing guns and hurling grenades to take his photograph. Eventually the execution picture of the Iraqi election worker became part of AP's Pulitzer Prize portfolio and the world moved on. Now Michelle Malkin's report brings the whole issue of the spontaneity of the photograph back onto the table.
Let's go over Michelle Malkin's report carefully to see what information has been added. First, is it true that Bilal Hussein was part of the team which took the Pulitzer Prize winning photo? He was part of the citation for a set of photos, but is not clearly identified specifically with the Haifa Street picture. What the AP Photojournalists Win the Pulitzer Prize says is:
The AP won for a series of graphic and heartbreaking pictures of bloody combat in Iraq. Some of the photos had already won prizes. Many were taken at great personal risk to the photographers, including pictures of gunmen executing Iraqi election workers in the midst of morning traffic, and the charred remains of U.S. contractors who had been killed, dismembered, burned and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. ...
The photographers cited were Bilal Hussein, Karim Kadim, Brennan Linsley, Jim MacMillan, Samir Mizban, Khalid Mohammed, John B. Moore, Muhammad Muheisen, Anja Niedringhaus, Murad Sezer and Mohammed Uraibi. An unnamed stringer was credited in the photo package for the picture of a daytime execution of vote workers, with the anonymity due to security concerns.
Here are abbreviated bios: Khalid Mohammed, Baghdad, worked with AP for the past two years, spent significant time in Fallujah and at great personal risk, took the photos of the U.S. contractors killed, then dismembered, burned and their charred remains hung from a bridge. Mohammed said he was threatened immediately after taking the picture and had to escape quickly by car. "I told the driver to keep the engine running, just in case," he said.
Bilal Hussein remained behind in his hometown neighborhood so he could document the events of the battle for Fallujah, obtaining for AP a stunning and exclusive photo showing Iraqi insurgents firing their weapons. When he was forced to flee to Baghdad, his house – and his cameras – were destroyed in the fighting.
Mohammed Uraibi, Baghdad was hired and trained by AP's visiting non-Iraqi photographers.
Samir Mizban and Karim Kadim, Baghdad, navigated the hostile areas in the Iraqi capital, including the Sadr City neighborhood.
Bilal Hussein may have been one of the persons who took the Haifa Street pictures but this can't be conclusively determined from the information provided by AP. Until Hussein's arrest is confirmed or denied nothing definite can be added. Yet the practice of assigning stringers dependent on the indulgence of killers for both their lives and access must run the risk of corrupting the reportage. It is almost tantamount to providing each terrorist cells with their very own Alan-a-Dale; and if the digital troubadour will not sing to their liking then surely the killers will not allow him to sing at all. Is not this system an open invitation to stage attacks for propaganda; is there not some danger it will create the incentive to trade blood for news?