Good, Bad, and Ugly

Reader reaction to Reuters news

Fire damage photo

Your picture reminds me of the photos you published during the Israel – Lebanon war.

Please engage your brains BEFORE publishing. How did this nice clean doll (with clean white pants) survive a fire that totally gutted the house that it is pictured in?

Come on you all. WAKE UP.


The photo is fine. We have examined the whole sequence of pictures that included this one, and there are a number of things in the house – a doorknob here, a picture frame there, etc. – that appear clean despite the serious fire damage around them: GBU Editor


Dear GBU Editor,

I showed your photo to a FDNY staff chief, Ronald Spadafora, who teaches fire science at John Jay College in NYC. His response? Laughter.

Your method of testing challenged photo? In house editors –not experts in fire sciences–looking at other photographs by the same photographer of the same scene. This is hardly a serious investigation.

I am director of Art Science Research Laboratory, a not for profit, co-founded by the late Stephen Jay Gould, dedicated to the use by media of scientific method and experts for testing facts before publication.
Please show your bona fides. Start by posting here the photos you cite as evidence of your photographer’s innocence. Allow us to work with you to provide serious experts that can test and verify the legitimacy or fraud of this pristine doll photo. My email is

Citizens are fed up.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

Dear GBU Editor,

We found the identical doll on ebay. Its Shirley Temple. Since we now know the manufacturer, we can contact them about the materials and have a fairly exacting determination of what temperatures the doll parts will burn.

Your factual claim that “there are a number of things in the house – a doorknob here, a picture frame there, etc. – that appear clean despite the serious fire damage around them” can be tested in the case of the doll.

Wood burns at certain temperatures. There is “no way” according to the fire fighter expert we have initially consulted that the doll was found in its original position unburned while “serious fire damage” occurred “around” it.

Please show your bona fides and respond. Write to

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

I’m glad Reuters posted your comments, so we could tell you to shut up and go home. Things happen. I’m not talking about miracles — You don’t have to be religious to understand.
Entire airplanes fall out of the sky — 1 man walks away. All the physics and fact checking you can throw at it says it’s impossible. It happens. THINGS happen.

Thanks, guys and girls, your photos continue to be great.

Posted by William | Report as abusive

It looks to me like Ms. Shearer is the type of person who likes to hear herself talk, and who must have a lot of free time (Her big claim to fame is disproving a giant pig photo). She seems awfully interested in making herself sound like an expert by listing the names of other experts in her messages, but I think that in her quest to be proven correct, and to discredit the name of a respected photographer, she is failing to consider all of the possibilities as to how this doll remained unscathed in a fire.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Your fire experts can laugh all they want, and you can acquire an identical doll and temperature test it if you *really* have that much free time, but before you do that, have you considered the possibility that the doll wasn’t in the original fire, but ended up in the ruins of the house before the photographer arrived on the scene? What if the family had come back to the scene after the fire was out, and the doll had been dropped then? It could have easily been picked up from an unburned portion of the house and dropped there by someone. You see people in disaster areas rummaging through and shifting around the ruined belongings in their homes all the time, looking for anything salvageable. Maybe that’s how the doll made it there. No-one said it had to have been in that exact spot the whole time.

My point is, anything could have happened before the photographer got to the scene. I don’t think he was standing there waiting, while it burned, with a sack full of dolls to plant.

Posted by Darren Abate | Report as abusive

Darrin, I list the name of experts because they are experts. You may note that questions about this photo are not unique to me or our experts.

We are looking for the truth. The Reuters editor says above “We have examined the whole sequence of pictures that included this one, and there are a number of things in the house – a doorknob here, a picture frame there, etc. – that appear clean despite the serious fire damage around them”

The key words here are: ” appear clean despite the serious fire damage around them.” No one has said the doll dropped into the fire scene by someone. Was the doll in the fire or not? The photo implies it was. This is knowable.

Look at what William says above, which proves my point…
“You don’t have to be religious to understand.
Entire airplanes fall out of the sky — 1 man walks away. All the physics and fact checking you can throw at it says it’s impossible. It happens. THINGS happen.”

Yeah, things happen. When a plane falls from the sky and someone survives there are physical laws and facts that can be understood in science beyond “things happen” magical thinking.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

The driving force behind this issue is the increasing presence of contrived photos and articles that pass themselves off as truth while in actuality they are designed to sway public opinion toward a particular agenda. When this happens journalism becomes propaganda. While some people may not care, there are many of us who do. I don’t want someone else’s opinion or artistic creation; I want the facts and nothing but the facts. I am perfectly capable of drawing my own conclusions; I don’t need someone to do it for me.

Posted by JE Smith | Report as abusive

Who is to say the doll wasn’t in a fire retardant box that was jarred opened as the fireman retreated from finishing clearing the room?

Who knows whether or not a poor crying child dropped the doll as her parents pulled her from the wreckage as they surveyed their former home?

Who is lame enough to call into question the ‘facts’ of this image when the emotion it speaks to is a pure gesture that is moving regardless of context?

Well, I know the answer to the last question. A frustrated wanna-be artist who made a living forming organizations to debunk the poetic gestures of others. Where I come from we just call ‘em ‘haters.’

Posted by Alek Fury | Report as abusive

@Ronda Shearer: How can you call you tell these photos are fake if you haven’t been down to the site to corroborate the info???? how is remotely possible to say you are “right” without a hardcore solid proof of your words?

-Have you been there?

-Do you have photos that make this ones invalid?

-Do you have any physical proof on site to refute this photos??

-Did you went with an expert to the site to seek any evidence that the site has been altered in some way?

There is certain thing called “the scientific method” you know… something that is used to prove you a certain phenomenon -hypothesis- is right or wrong, you are going by your own criteria without checking the site to state if these photos are truth or lie.. geeez for someone with such a resume as yourself you sure are very sloppy don’t you think???

Until you have physical evidence by real forensic experts -meaning not you with your heavy bias towards the whole issue, but experts trained following the scientific method-, I can tell you that HARDLY someone could believe you Ronda.

Did you know this world isn’t ruled by the “mumbo-jumbo” anymore? if you are going to talk bring SOLID proofs of what you are saying, not “LOL I CALLED MY FRINDZ AND HE TOLD ME ITS FAKEZ”

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

Have you read my posts? Please be careful what you accuse me of stating.You are only assuming I said the photos are fake. I have never declared the photos, in fact, are staged. If I knew, why would I be seeking out more experts and asking for photos?

I have just said above that our initial expert stated that the doll could not survive the surrounding fire untouched. I believe this is true but still plan to test my (and my experts) belief as I have described, also above. We have gone so far as to discover the identity of the doll and have purchased two in order to know more about the materials and to contact the manufacturer.

We want to have access to hi rez versions of these photos so expert can examine them–a valid mode of science.

For example, one Mario photo shows a charred door with a pristine brass door knob. The character of the burned wood and the door knob can be determined by a photograph. In forensic science, photos are taken of a crime scenes because time and people inevitability change the crime scene.
The resulting photos–of houses, rooms dead bodies–are what experts use to testify.This includes arson fires.

I obviously can not describe all we are doing to research this case here as a comment on the Reuter’s blog. But if you are interested, I plan to also reach out to the local area to see if we can find the girl’s–Taylor?–house. But the first step is to examine the photos. We are dependent upon Reuters providing these hi rez images. I have not gotten a response to my request.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

JE Smith, I agree with you completely. Photojournalism needs to be recorded facts, not art.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive


Since you seem to be an amateur (at best) sleuth, Maybe you should have tossed around some other theories around first, before assuming that this was a doctored image, through technology, or strategic placement.


If you look at any other ‘doctored’ image from wartimes, or disasters, the toys are usually placed in the foreground of a larger scene, giving it a deeper meaning. If Mario was trying to move his audience to tears, would he not have taken a low angle shot with the doll in focus in front of a destroyed house? I think that picture would move me more than this one.
Also, consider looking at Mario’s previous work. Most photographers fake photojournalism all the time, and because of the fact Mario does not have any prior assaults on his work, maybe you should keep quiet.


Consider the doll sitting next to a window blown apart by the heat, in the still uncharred section of the house, )as you see in the other sequence of shots) when from above a large amount of water rips through the weakened ceiling tossing the doll out the window onto soaked, charred wood.

Its not unrealistic that an explosion tossed the toy out of the path of the fire, perhaps under shield of something protecting it, who knows.

The fact that you automatically jump to fradulent photojournalism makes you more of a muck stirrer then a person out to uncover the truth. Buying more dolls to run your own tests? Give it a break. You know, nobody will remember your work in 100 years, but Mario’s real photography will live on, and people will know his name.

In conclusion, you might have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those pesky kids and their damn doll.

PS, if you reply to my comment, please spell my name right.


Posted by Scott Alexander | Report as abusive

I’m sure there are many people awaiting your test results. But when you release them, please include exactly how you were able to recreate a wildfire with 80mph winds.

Maybe you can write in to Mythbusters, they probably have better equipment.

Posted by Question | Report as abusive

Ms. Shearer,
You obviously are one of those people with too much time on your hands. Wouldn’t your time (and money) be better spent actually helping some of the people who were victims of the fires, instead of scrutinizing an obviously excellent photo with your Pandora’s box of “experts”? For an intelligent, scholar you have no common sense (as is usually the case) and it is times like these I am ashamed to call myself an American.

Posted by Wendy R | Report as abusive

Rhonda (happy with the spelling?) :If you haven’t been in phenomenons like this, I doubt you could understand the magnitude of the things you are saying, you are implying that the photos have been staged, and surely putting ink stains on the photos of a honest man… I really hope and wish this isn’t some kind of morbid way to get some attention.

I would want to see “your” team of experts recreate accurately and without YOUR bias in an scientific experiment a wildfire with those horribly fast 83 MPH winds… And I will applaud them when you are proven wrong, I would hope that you would be brave enough to post a letter apologizing for the slandering you have been doing.

Why would reuters will give you access to the files if you haven’t EVEN put a foot on the house where the photos have been taken??? as a matter of fact they DON’T have to give you anything unless you own Reuters and we didn’t knew about it.

Identifying a doll isn’t a solid proof Rhonda, you know little girls like to play with dolls don’t you? how come that the doll is found in the site proofs anything???? neither the door knob…. please as said before, you would be surprised to be on a site like the house pictured in the photos and see how fire doesn’t touch some stuff and burns to crisp others. I would think that a person of your age would be way more mature to give me a better proof than that.

Even in forensic science they need both the photos and a visit to the scene before even having the remote idea of telling to the public how things happened, that is called responsibility you know??? you can’t go accusing someone without a single piece of solid proof.

The fact that you state the photo is fraudulent without ANY proof -real one and definitive not the garbage you have written which isn’t definitive or conclusive- is called Slander, you know that?.

As an advice until you have some real proof, don’t come here bashing the photos please, you are only mocking yourself, as said before you are doing slander and I hope legal action will be taken against you.

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

Dear Ed,

Where did I say the photo is fraudulent? Nowhere. I have said many times: I learned that others questioned the photo right here on this blog. You may be satisfied with Reuters saying “the photo is fine” with no supporting evidence provided–I am not. The other GBU posting provides my additional response to your comment.

I have asked Reuters for the address of the house and I have asked whether or not they had permission to enter and photograph this private house. They have refused to answer. So I continue seeking it on my own.

In fact, by email Reuters has just informed me the doll and related photos case “is closed” and that this GBU blog allows me to express my or others opinions.

After Reuters their recent major scandal of staged and altered photos, this stonewall is not going to help the public’s belief in their credibility.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

I just love the way your reinvent what you have said before, if you are stating that the doll couldn’t have been there and that the doll was placed, you are saying the photo is fraudulent, and without proofs that is called slander.

Yeah web 2.0 allows anyone to express their opinion and IMHO is a sad thing when people like you without proof make a scandal about “staged” photos, it is way easy for you to draw attention to yourself in a morbid way by doing slander here, so be it, is this some kind of twisted way to get PR to your website???, as said before I hope you really, really get sued for Slander.

What guarantee do we have that you and “your” experts won’t tamper the evidence???? hardly I would believe you have any ethics by reading how you have accused someone without any proof.

Also what experience do YOU have on photojournalism?? -this is the part I will surely love to read the most ’cause I already know you have none-

And finally please don’t “dear” me, I don’t know you at all, and I don’t want someone like you call me “dear”.

Of course the GBU has closed the matter, cause your allegations are ridiculous, your poor experience on photography and your greed to get attention to your name and your website makes you go on false accusations.

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

A good photo, maybe not great, but it does offer a human aspect to such a colossal disaster.
From the information I have here, there is not, nor was there ‘ever a reason’ to bring the photographer’s reputation into disrepute.

Much like the dog chasing its tail the outcome is meaningless (other than the damage done, and disrespect shown to a professional photographer that is).

Posted by LikeBlue | Report as abusive

Ed, please quote what you are referring to and I will respond.

This debate existed right here well before I got involved so I think its interesting that you and others (friends of Mario) focus on me. Here goes my opinion:

I can believe that someone dropped the doll into the scene or the doll somehow fell from a shelf and landed there. I do not believe this doll was in the position as shown in the photo during a raging fire as evidenced by its pristine condition. That is my opinion but I want to serve the public’s interest to find out more. What does the family have to say? What do experts have to say? I will report all that I find.

Ed, do you believe the doll was untouched by the heat and flames surrounding it? If yes, why?

All that Mario the photographer or Reuters editors have to say is “we don’t know how the doll got there; but here is the photo” and I would be satisfied with that. The problem is, that is not what they are saying. This is not a “miracle doll.”

Most interesting of all is that Chris knew–BEFORE I DID–as shown from the dateS and timeS of his comments –that Reuters was not going to provide Mario’s doll photos in high resolution to me.

How did Chris have this advance knowledge that he shared with the rest of Mario’s friends? After all, this is private, insider, employee/employer information from Mario’s working relationship with Reuters about this public dispute?

There is only one answer I can think of: Mario told Chris Weeks who shares it with all the other Mario friends on his blog.

This surly is evidence that Mario, the Reuters professional photographer is, embarrassingly for Reuters,in cahoots with his friends’ campaign to flame me and my daughter–as Chris Weeks openly admits on his blog.

Frankly, I think Mario’s friends are doing much more damage to their friend’s career than my questions. Who wants a guy working for them who sends out flame throwers to attack critics of their work. Very troubling if Reuters turns a blind eye to this employee problem.

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

@rhonda: “Most interesting of all is that Chris knew–BEFORE I DID–as shown from the dateS and timeS of his comments –that Reuters was not going to provide Mario’s doll photos in high resolution to me.”

dA’s time and date stamp is utc i believe. i read what you wrote in your comment which said, “In fact, by email Reuters has just informed me the doll and related photos case “is closed” and that this GBU blog allows me to express my or others opinions.”

you really love a good conspiracy don’t you?

the world and the media is not out to get you ms. shearer.

Posted by chris weeks | Report as abusive

Chris, My post that announces that the case is “closed” was November 3rd. But on Oct. 31st you were aware that Reuters was not going to give me the photos. You wrote, “ms. shearer thinks that she’s entitled to receiving access to the ‘entire photo set’ … thank god … reuters refused.”

This is evidence that you knew insider information from Mario and Reuters on Oct 31st– three days before I posted on Nov 3rd.

Sexist and porn references aimed at me and my daughter on your two blogs are not “paranoia.” You actively encourage others to attack. You sent me a private, nasty email yourself; yet you write ” i know nothing of private emails.”

Readers don’t be fooled. If its not safe for me and my daughter to post comments here. Is it safe for you?

Posted by Rhonda Shearer | Report as abusive

“I showed your photo to a FDNY staff chief, Ronald Spadafora, who teaches fire science at John Jay College in NYC. His response? Laughter.

Your method of testing challenged photo? In house editors –not experts in fire sciences–looking at other photographs by the same photographer of the same scene. This is hardly a serious investigation. ”

you are implying here something, you are implying “staged photo” you are implying “fake photo” of course, now that the word Slander appears you use the “not me” card, please… we are intelligent, even if we don’t appear in Forbes we have more than 3 fingers of forehead…

I have seen fire scenes where thing get blown up in the air be it the expansive wave of things exploding or the tremors of weak structures due to fire, they fly and they fall but aren’t touched by flames, they may land in places where flames where already suffocated by the lack of oxygen… happy now????.. nop…you will not be happy, there are 3,000,000 variables in which something will happen that is inexplicable, yet you won’t be happy,not until you get your hits elevated by thousands of visitors in your website… you will try to get free publicity for your web site and your name, dirty PR moves… whenever you have solid proofs accuse… if not -again- you are slandering

Now you even post the link to your site, if you are paying big fat checks to the PR people that suggested this move, well they will be happy, even when they have won a place in hell for doing staining the name of an honest photographer.

And it is safe to post here, you just expect people will follow your rules, must of us will try to maintain some education, but some others won’t as said before, if you post your email address you are bound to have this kind of response, even more when you are trying to falsely accuse an honest photographer, welcome to web 2.0 and planet earth in case you didn’t know how the world is.

And no we aren’t doing any damage to Mario, you have been perfectly doing that role, just to get more hits on your website, by doing slander! SHAME ON YOU!

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

Rhonda, I got a small question.
After reading this, I understood that you don’t know the man who made the photo personally.
Was really your first thought that he made up this?
That he wanted to be just more famous or get more money or something like this?
If yes, I’m quite sorry about your perception about people. It doesn’t look nice.

And well… This little case starting to looks like a scandal. And this discussion doesn’t look like discussion any more… Sorry, but in my humble opinion you started to be arrogant and insult each other in many kind of ways.


Posted by meg | Report as abusive

ms shearer,

it’s clear to anyone knowledgeable in photography that these images are not doctored, and to anyone with a vague background in the physics of fire that it is in fact not staged.

nothing in the room is burned except the ashes and debris on the floor. the charcoal on the door protected the room from the heat and fire (carbon is often used in heat protection). the only burned items are located near to the windows (glass known to radiate heat effectively)

so there’s the question of the ashes on the floor.
in the photographs there is an abundance of light that is consistant with that of natural light, both in it’s shading properties and in it’s color temurature.

the ashes on the floor are obviously from the roof, which has burned and fallen in knocking the doll off it’s perch and onto it’s ashes.

simple, real and scientificly plausable explanation.

as far as I’m concerned this photograph is indeed honest and effective coverage

Posted by Diran | Report as abusive


We have removed links in this thread because some pointed to discourse that we felt was not appropriate. The comments themselves, of course,remain: GBU Editor

Posted by Robert Basler | Report as abusive