Photographers' Blog

McCain moment

October 17, 2008

mccainpicture.jpg

The third and final debate between the 2008 U.S. presidential nominees had just ended. Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama and Republican nominee Senator John McCain had just shaken hands moments before and turned away from each other, when Senator McCain suddenly lunged forward with his hands out in front of him and stuck out his tongue.

It appeared to me that McCain was reacting to moderator Bob Schieffer informing him that he was headed the wrong way off the stage, that he was not supposed to be following Senator Obama, but was supposed to be heading towards his own wife and family around the other side of the table.

In any case, when I saw McCain lunge and his hands start to come up I hit the shutter and made two frames before it was over. Some other photographers who were there expressed surprise when they saw my picture and said they had never seen it happen at all and asked when it had occurred. When I saw the television tape of it later on the news I too was surprised at how momentary and fast the move by Senator McCain was. Strangely enough Senator McCain again stuck his tongue out in a similar way 3-4 minutes later while standing between his wife Cindy and Senator Obama at the front of the stage, a moment captured by my colleague Shannon Stapleton and other wire service photographers in attendance and once again shown on national and international television.

The picture, as with all my pictures that night, was remotely edited by an editor off site, viewing my pictures as I shot them over the internet and working with other editors who processed and captioned the pictures along with photos from the other three Reuters photographers shooting the debate. This photo was just one of 40 of my pictures that were transmitted on the Reuters wire from this debate and one of more than 100 from our crew of photographers, which included Gary Hershorn, Shannon Stapleton, Jim Young and Carlos Barria.

By the time I got back to my hotel room that night people were already discussing the photo on the internet and by the next morning my email inbox was filling with messages about the picture. Some people complimented me on the photo while others strongly criticized both myself and Reuters for shooting and transmitting a news photo of a very public moment that had taken place in front of more than 60 million television viewers at the culmination of a major and historic public event.

Comments
66 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

It’s said ‘the camera never lies’, but it can be very cruel – tho’ funny! As an Obama fan, it nevertheless makes me feel sorry for McCain – could it result in sympathy votes for the underdog?

Posted by Diana | Report as abusive
 

I have to side with the critics. As a photographer and editor, I would never have transmitted this image. I would consider this image defamatory, and transmitting it an act of malice. It looks like an attempt to embarrass Senator McCain, not provide “fair presentation” as required by the Reuters editorial handbook. The cropped version of the image that appears on Yahoo News is better, but not by much.

The photo is a misrepresentation of what was happening at the time. Without reading the caption it appears that Senator McCain is about to grab Senator Obama’s posterior, not react to a person who is not in the frame. The photo should be able to stand on it’s own without the caption, something that this photos does not do.

Writers are often criticized for taking quotes out of context, this image is a moment in time taken out of context.

The only use I have found of the photo on the internet using a search in Google News is at a French web site that is critical of the image an puts it in context by playing video of the debate showing the action.

http://www.rue89.com/campagnes-damerique  /2008/10/16/pourquoi-mccain-fait-la-gri mace-apres-son-debat-avec-obama

I am also critical of the caption, as you are only guessing as to why Senator McCain is reacting the way he is.

I realize that as a photographer you are looking for the unguarded moment to try and make a revealing photo of a person, but this can only be seen as an attempt to embarrass and discredit.

Howard Smith

Posted by Howard Smith | Report as abusive
 

See the YouTube video below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpsdKUQ1n KA

for one person’s perspective on how you can make a decision to support Obama AND vote for John McCain. Feel free to forward this to any “undecided” voters you know of. This will be a VERY close election and we need every single vote we can get.

Demonizing Obama will get us a few votes (and also lose us at least a few votes) but I hope that a rational, positive thought process will persuade a few people who are still on the fence.

Regards,

Dan

Posted by Dan Rust | Report as abusive
 

C’mon people, it’s just a funny, out-of-context picture. I can’t take a good picture to save my life even though a few people (aside from my mom) have accused me of being attractive.

“Mmmmmmm, Democrats.” (My suggestion for a caption.)

Posted by Amy | Report as abusive
 

Tongue-thrusts are a common symptom in patients using psychotropic, neuroleptic, antidepressants. Is it possible that the Republican Nominee is taking this type of medication?

Posted by Anthony A | Report as abusive
 

The picture definitely shows some abnormal response and should be of major concern. Even if McCain stuck out his tongue and hands deliberately, it would still be a very very strange action for a supposedly professional person in a professional situation. Something is very wrong here.

Posted by KathyJ | Report as abusive
 

To me, the photo looks like John McCain tripped or stumbled and his extension of his arms was to brace himself on Senator Obama in case he (McCain) fell forward. Actually it is a a funny photograph. Almost a perfect photo for Halloween!! You know, an enlarged photo (of only Senator McCain) on your front door for the trick or treaters. I’m not being mean, I just found this extremely funny. Am glad he did not fall and hurt himself.

 

Good or bad politically, this shot is one heck of a capture. Jim, I’d say that you did the right thing transmitting this image. It\’s stirring dialog and debate, both critical to a democracy.

Congrats on a once in a lifetime capture.

 

Cameras have a well-known liberal bias.

Posted by Steve B | Report as abusive
 

well its can be a gimmick to get a sympathic vote, but its not the actions but the words which warn all of us. The underdog can also bite, therefore treat McCain with care, for never measure a snake with a without pinning its head down, for otherwise it might attack thinking its protecting itself from harm.

Posted by Jane | Report as abusive
 

come on, people. you’ve all got to quit making such a big deal of things. if i could count the number of goofy faces and actions i’ve made in front of people, id be here a whiles doing so.

in all honesty, id prefer to see our politicians acting goofy sometimes. it lets you know the burdens of modern society haven’t killed their souls.

Posted by chris s. | Report as abusive
 

Re: Howard Smith

You know the best defense against defamation is truth, right? The plain, unvarnished, tongue-hanging truth.

To the photographer: excellent shot. Probably harder than getting a hovering hummingbird.

Posted by Eleutheria | Report as abusive
 

Howard, I have to ask:

How is a photo that has not been manipulated defamatory? It is a visual record of what was there to be recorded. It’s not false.

Posted by Obscure | Report as abusive
 

It seems that ol John’s true feelings show quite often – especially during the debates.

It is a shame that we cannot know what he was thinking during this “McCain Moment” but I would bet it was something like —

“That One”, is “Senator Government” and I just cannot bear to speak with him since he is so far out in Left Field.

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive
 

It’s just McCain clowning, making fun of himself. “Oh, I was supposed to leave the stage the other way? HURRRR!”

That’s all it is. He didn’t have a minor stroke or something.

Is it appropriate for him to be acting silly in that context?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Posted by Jolly | Report as abusive
 

You’ll notice if you’ve followed McCain for any length of time, whenever something funny happens or he makes a joke he smiles or makes a funny face and puts his tongue out. it’s one of his mannerisms. He also makes jokes when he is nervous, sometimes very well other times poorly. He’s an easy to read man, when he acts angry it’s usually pretty scripted but when he jokes or makes faces it’s cause he’s nervous or if he makes faces after a joke it’s cause he’s afraid people didn’t get it or it wasn’t funny enough. In this case he was simply caught in a mistake and made his ” der-duh-der” face.

Posted by anon | Report as abusive
 

Imagine that McCain won the presidency. Now imagine that the man on the left is Vladamir Putin (or Medvedev). Now imagine what people around the world might think. Exactly.

Posted by flyguy | Report as abusive
 

@Howard Smith
“As a photographer and editor, I would never have transmitted this image. I would consider this image defamatory, and transmitting it an act of malice….”

Please. There are hundreds of photographs of Bush, Clinton, Obama and others, making all kinds of odd faces. What kind of new censorship do you suggest? Preventing pictures of the Coffins from Iraq from reaching the light of day because it may make certain individuals “look bad”? Would you attempt to ban “The Tiananmen Square” picture and the photo of “Thich Quang Duc the Buddhist monk” because you would consider them “politically biased?” In your world, the photo of “Phan Thị Kim Phúc” would be an “act of malice” because she was nude. Get a life.

Posted by LOL | Report as abusive
 

Thank you for taking this photo! I wouldn’t vote for someone who acts this childish.

Posted by Cyrus | Report as abusive
 

McCain’s lurching and uncontrolled tongue is most likely due to profound early symptoms of some very serious health condition where he loses physical control of his body. If he gets elected, I’ll put odds that we get to know President Palin much better, you betcha.

Posted by richard | Report as abusive
 

Even though he was just making a funny face when he was going off stage, I like how your photograph gives an entirely different impression. It makes it look like he is making the face at Obama. Your photo conveys a message that is completely different than reality, something much more exciting and sensational. I’m not surprised your news organization chose this over reality (i.e. the news).

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive
 

He’s probably having a stroke because he is too old to be president. I would never hire a person who has had cancer in their head to make decisions for me. I’m not so sure about Biden’s aneurysm, either. Of course we wouldn’t have to worry about these things if the super insider delegates had gone with “the will of the people” in the Democratic nomination.

Posted by Clay | Report as abusive
 

Is this really any different than the Howard Dean yell? I seem to remeber is played over and over again over the radio and newspapers.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive
 

Anyone who wouldn’t vote for someone based on a photo is a dumbass and probably shouldn’t vote to begin with.

That said, great shot.

Posted by CS | Report as abusive
 

This photo just demonstrates the reality that we choose to ignore: politicians are human. They are not demigods, and are just as prone to awkward moments such as these which are a perfect example of how human and silly, albeit embarrassingly so.

As an Obama supporter I find no reason why this photo should would deter anyone from voting for Senator McCain. He is just reacting to having made a simple mistake and not proving that he is mentally unstable, on meds or any other theories brought forth by other comments.

I think its good that politicians are caught in moments such as these, it proves they are human and can act childish and silly just like the rest of us. I would not want a leader who could not cut loose and be silly but that could be serious and professional as well.

Lighten up guys, this is just a great photo of a decisive moment that just happened to be silly…Henri Cartier Bresson would be proud Jim!

Posted by John | Report as abusive
 

When McCain chose Palin, he disqualified himself as she is in now way up for the job. He is probably very ill and fortunately has little chance of becoming President now.

Posted by richard | Report as abusive
 

In contrast to others, I do think that this picture is highly important, and I will treat it with all the seriousness that it deserves. If one of our presidential candidates is actually a brain-eating zombie, the people have a right to know!

Posted by Eric Tolle | Report as abusive
 

Let’s be honest here, people. No one’s vote is going to be swung by this picture. Obama supporters will use it to reinforce whatever they already believe about McCain, and McCain supporters will use it as grist for their media-hate mill.

Posted by Howard Johnson | Report as abusive
 

To Eleutheria and several others, a photo can be unmanipulated and still be defamatory. Senator McCain is reacting to the moderator who is out of frame and not to Senator Obama’s posterior. There is no way to look at the photo and tell why Senator McCain is acting the way he is. An editorial photo should be able to stand on it’s own without a caption and accurately tell the story. This one does not, therefore it is not truthful and should not have made it to the wire.

To LOL, you list several great editorial photographs, but you miss my point. The McCain photo does not accurately tell the story of what is happening, the photos you list do. Maybe you should add to your list the Eddie Adams photo of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Nguyễn Văn Lém that won Eddie Adams the Pulitzer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Adams _(photographer)

Mr. Adams later regretted taking the photo because it was taken out of context and used as part of the anti-war movement. He was quoted in Time magazine

“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.”

While I am not suggesting that the Vietnam execution photo should not have been put out on the wire (or any of the other photos that you have listed), it shows that photographers and editors have a responsibility to carefully chose the photos that are transmitted, and not just transmit a photo because it is a funny moment.

By the way, I do have a life, it is as an editorial photographer and editor for the past 15 years.

Posted by Howard Smith | Report as abusive
 

It is very obvious that John McCain was just having a lighthearted moment and I don’t think it was unprofessional or even makes him look bad. I noticed him making that face when I watched the debate live and at the time I thought it made him seem more human and likable. I really hope that people don’t allow one silly picture to sway their opinion one way or the other.

Posted by Ellen | Report as abusive
 

@Howard Smith
“To LOL, you list several great editorial photographs, but you miss my point. The McCain photo does not accurately tell the story of what is happening..”

I think YOU miss the point my friend. The only way this situation would have been “unethical” is if Reuters buried the photo because it was unflattering to McCain. That is all. It’s a photo of an event that happened. It wasn’t created, or manufactured, or staged by the fictional pinko-liberal-media that resides only in your head. It happened. A photographer recorded it, newspapers saw it and distributed it because it was easily one of the more interesting photos of the night, no matter how it occurred. And they’d have done the same if it was Obama. This isn’t Germany circa 1939 as much as individuals like yourself would like it to be. You quote Mr. Adams as stating that “photos are only half-truths” well indeed they are, there is no way we can know the WHOLE story unless we step in a persons shoes and walk in them for a long while. Photography will not catch everyone in their best moment but, the moment in itself is relative and subject to interpretation. In your world a photo should be able to, and I quote, “accurately tell the WHOLE story” based on the photographers interpretation on what just occurred. NO picture can accurately tell the entire story and your quote is not only sophomoric but, shows the kind of blatant naivety that is rather sad for someone who claims to have 15 years in the field. In summary, you say its offensive and that the photo is therefore dishonest. That’s simply your interpretation –is your interpretation the only one that matters? Should Reuters clear all of their photos with you from here on in to ensure that the reality of the events depicted all jibe with YOUR interpretations? In your mind however, we should restrict all photos, works of art and literature lest they be defamous according to Howard Smith. Enjoy the fig leaf my friend.

Posted by LOL | Report as abusive
 

I think it’s a great example of good journalism and a keen eye. Nice capture!

 

He looks like Lizard Man, forget Joe the Plumber! I think he acted and looked very immature at the debate this just further proves my point.

Posted by Eve | Report as abusive
 

It’s a great picture, showing that McCain is human. Nothing wrong with it at all.

 

We’re told McCain is an angry man with a short temper who performs irrational acts (selecting Palin as his VP, for instance)– now we have visual confirmation. Presidential material? Not quite. Nice work, Jim.

Posted by roger vaughan | Report as abusive
 

How is this hideous picture the photographer’s fault? I love you Republican hacks. Blame the guy with the camera, not the clown like political hack who doesn’t know how to handle himself in a respectful manner. McCain is a school-yard punk, a Vietnam veteran, not a hero, and he is angry at the fact Obama is trouncing him in the election. As a politician he should always be aware of the camera’s ever watchful eye. This photo is no one’s fault but John McCain. Welcome to the 21st century Senator.

Posted by frank brenner | Report as abusive
 

Funny photo. A memorable shot. A historic moment. But not in time of the presidential run. We have to consider the fact that during the campaign people are inclined to see a protagonist and the antagonist. The photo, although it makes you laugh and from my POV (Slovenia, Europe) it’s hilarious, at this point in the presidential run still makes McCain an antgonist-like figure. :) He’s slouching like a monster behind Obama. :) I don’t know if I’d run the photo. I’d somehow expect people to believe I’m biased. Although it’s a genuine moment, not like the other times the media were biased (deepening shadows on O.J. Simpson etc…). Bottom line, a great capture, and I’d love to publish it, but some other time. And no matter if I agree on McCain’s bad performance or favor Obama, as an editor I still mustn’t show that in the cntent I’m running in press. Well, just my – long-distance – take on the subject. But this sure made me laugh. :))

 

I agree with the comments about the tongue thrust being an indicator of something being amiss with McCain’s health. I have thought that several times of late. On top of that he doesn’t seem too fluent when speaking. Probably tired I guess but it’s worrying.

Posted by IanM | Report as abusive
 

McCain is well known as a jokester, I think this was a feeble attempt to try an humiliate Obama, but trying to make it seem like a joke.
Seems to me he was trying to look like a dog ready to pounce on Obamas behind.
I think it was a great photo and one that people had better take a close look at in perspective of just what McCain may be as a President.
Any one remember how kids would make faces behind their teachers back, sending their classmates into hysterical laughter?
I think this was what McCain was trying to do, one problem though, he is not a grammar school kid, He could be our next President!

Posted by Martha | Report as abusive
 

An open letter to Howard Smith,

I will not waste everyone’s time with a lengthy, bag of hot air like you have in protest to the transmittal of this photo. I have only one thing to say to you, Howard:

If you are a public figure and you are photographed during ab ab embarrassing moment such as this, it WILL be published… no matter what. Thanks for trying to act as the moral barometer here, but it doesn’t matter what you say. Any celebrity can will tell you that once you become a figure of public interest, you give up your right to privacy.

Nuff said.

DC

Posted by Dave Churilla | Report as abusive
 

I think if the world were to conform to Howard Smith’s ideals, we would all die of boredom. Loosen your pants a little Mr Smith :P

Posted by Five Times | Report as abusive
 

Amazing photograph! I wonder if he has been checked out for a stroke?

 

To Frank,

I wanted to leave my political leanings out of this, but no, I am not a Republican hack. I am a registered independent who is voting for Obama. While I do not like Senator McCain, I do not want to see him unjustly ridiculed. Let’s leave it at that.

To Dave, sorry about all the hot air, I am not a good writer, and yes you are very correct in your point that a public person looses his rights when it comes to protecting himself from a defamatory photo compared to a person who is not a public figure.

I still stand by my assertion that without the caption there is no way of telling what Senator McCain is doing in this photo. If the photo was taken from another angle showing that Senator McCain was reacting to the moderator I would feel better about it, but it is not. As I have written before, it looks like Senator McCain is about to grab Senator Obama’s posterior. Because of this, the photo is defamatory (not actionable), and should not have been moved.

Perhaps Yahoo News got it right when they cropped out Senator Obama from the photo since he did nothing but confuse the viewer as to what was going on at the time. While still needing a caption to inform the reader as to Senator McCain’s reaction, it does not give a false impression as to why he is reacting the way he is.

Posted by Howard Smith | Report as abusive
 

A similarity to the publicity afforded to Gov. H. Dean, when he got carried away with the cheering at his recent primary. It was picked up by the media and eventually caused him to relinquish the goal of nomination.

 

Mr Bourg, thanks a million for a moment of humor caught in the midst of all the mudslingin’ and trash talkin’. I’m glad you’ve shared this awesome shot with fellow citizens of planet Earth.

Mr Howard Smith, I recommend you lighten up and have fun with this instead of being so righteously concerned about things that don’t really matter that much. You’re gonna stress yourself out! Really… take a step back and look at what is happening in the world. Is the publication of a funny photo that much of a problem? Maybe we should focus on saving the world or something… yes, that what we should do!

Posted by Darren M | Report as abusive
 

Great photo! Good look in World Press!! News photo of the year!

 

The picture was used by many european as an visualization of the election in general (that night included): McCain trying to catch up with Obama – the stupid grimace is just pure bonus. He has, even by neutral standards, been looking stupid, and is most of the time one step behind the opposition.

All these things are summed up by that fantastic picture.

TK/Denmark

Posted by Tommy Kristensen | Report as abusive
 

Does anyone remember the Howard Dean scream that destroyed his campaign? This is similar. People and press who attended and covered the rally were not aware that the yell was a worthwhile story. But it was made after the fact.

Posted by Imran | Report as abusive
 

Earth to Jim, great picture and on a parr with Kevin Lamraque’s picture of Bush and the turkey. Well done for capturing the moment, both of you.

Posted by Russell | Report as abusive
 

Don’t get it? It’s an exellent shot, taken in a exellent moment. So what he is a presidential candidate, the shot is just beauriful. You just analyze it too much :)

Atleast from a Finnish perspective, thousands of kilometres away :)

Posted by Kalmakampela | Report as abusive
 

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