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Obama photo delivering bin Laden address was a reenactment

May 05, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP…)

The image of President Obama, standing in the White House East Room Sunday evening, solemnly declaring that America’s public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, was dead, was published in newspapers all over the world. But what if that photo wasn’t real?

A provocative post on the website of the Poynter Institute, which provides training for journalists, details how the president recreated the first 30 seconds of his televised address, including his approach to the podium, to the nation for the still photographers present after the speech was concluded.

Call it another wrinkle in the ever-muddying narrative of the Bin Laden operation, albeit a small one.

The article cites Jason Reed, a White House photographer for Reuters, recounting in a separate post how this was done.

“As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent,” Reed wrote. “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.”

According the Poynter post, the practice isn’t new, and dates back at least as far as the Reagan administration. Why is it done? Noise from the camera shutters, for one thing, as well as to ensure that the president can focus on the teleprompter

The practice however runs contrary to National Press Association Photographers Code of Ethics. Said John Harrington, president of the White House News Photographers Association, when asked by Poynter:  “I know we are splitting hairs here, but the White House photographers covering those re-enactments did not stage, request or direct them. They are covering an event. They photograph what they are presented with.”

The Associated Press and Reuters sent the images out identifying them as a reenactment, but not every newspaper than ran the photos included that disclaimer.

Ironically, news of the practice comes as those wire services are boycotting the GOP presidential debate sponsored by Fox News Channel Thursday evening in South Carolina. Fox News is preventing photographers from covering the event live.

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