McCain moment

October 17, 2008


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.


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Senile chorea? Could be, and could be very serious.

Posted by SFR Daniel | Report as abusive

To Howard Smith. It is not defamatory to use any photograph you can take from a public event such as this one. I have not seen the caption and, yes, captions can be defamatory. But photographers take what pictures they can and presumably choose the one that is the most newsworthy.

I cannot agree with your view that the photograph of the Vietnam general executing a prisoner should not have been sent because it was ‘not representative’ of what was happening. How can you justify that? And does this not put the photographer in the business of censorship?

Posted by Chris Stephen | Report as abusive

This image is too good to be true. It’s extremely telling in terms of where the presidential campaign is heading, with Obama coolly showing the way and McCain clumsily, grumpily, stumbling after.

Posted by Stefan Storm | Report as abusive

To Howard Smith:


I do not believe that Yahoo edits photographs. I surmise that Reuters’ transmitted a cropped version of Jim’s original image. Further proof of that is that they carried both the cropped version as well as the image that shows Obama.

Posted by Andy N | Report as abusive

Congratulations Jim, Is a World Press Photo award if I have to vote for you. All photojournalists that are shooting the camera trigger and spending the time with politics are jelaous of you in a very very positive way. And a handshake for editors. You are our mesianic master.

Good luck and don’t give for the negative karma of many hipocratics.

from Europe, all the best.
delmi alvarez

McCain needs to check with Cheney to see if he is using the same anti-medication. Cheney never lapses into moments such as this.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Howard, did you ever think that maybe the incident happened in front of millions and the photographer is simply putting it out there for all to see. It might be embarrassing to McCain, but this behavior would also be embarrassing for the USA if he did this after a meeting with world leaders.

Posted by shane | Report as abusive

All this tongue jutting seems rather involuntary, which is troubling because it’s a sign of incipient Alzheimer’s disease.
When an adult licks his lips you think he’s up to something, when a septuagenarian compulsively juts out his tongue quickly, you suggest that his doctor run some tests.

I beleve that is the real face of Republicans. This photo is very popular because every body knows, that Mac Cain lay’s to the American’s….xxxx

Posted by JAS | Report as abusive

As much as it’s an emarassing photo for McCain and his party, the reality is that it captured the moment perfectly. It hasn’t been manipulated and wasn’t shot out of context (Obama is in shot). It’s therefore fair game to use this.

I don’t know that it’s particularly newsworthy in it’s own right though…I think you’d have to use it carefully to remain balanced. But it is nevertheless a good shot that most of us would be happy to have captured simply because the timing has to be perfect (as confirmed by the number of people who missed it).

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

It seems to me that McCain is closer to the camera than Obama is – That he isn’t even behind him.

Posted by Tyler | Report as abusive

C’mon guys – this picture is hilarious. When has any funny picture of a presidential candidate or president ever been hidden from the public. I think there are entire websites dedicated to funny pictures of George W. Personally, I’m thankful I live in a country where pictures like this can be freely shared. I have to admit, I laugh every time I see this picture.

Posted by Dalena | Report as abusive

Good point made by others:

This is the same thing as the overplayed Howard Dean yell & other overplayed campaign moments. Most people know the context of the photo anyway, so it won’t hurt McCain by anyone. Its just a dang funny picture!

Posted by CC | Report as abusive

It would have been 10 times funnier if Sarah Palin was in front of him.

Posted by CC | Report as abusive

Everybody has unguarded moments and this was one of John McCain’s. Any normal person knows that McCain isn’t like this 24×7. Howard Smith’s comments exemplify the dangerous change that has overcome journalism where it is treated as “defamatory” to present something that actually happened or was said, or to present politicians as if they are human. This attitude leads to excessive deference: these people are supposed to be our servants, not we theirs. It then creeps into reporting on their policies, as if they, too, are flawless; that to e.g. question the ‘evidence’ of Iraqi WMDs is also “defamatory”. Smith should disclose who employs him, so we know what organizations distort the news, so that we can discount them.

Posted by Steve Body | Report as abusive

I think this moment at 1.29:58 in youtube watch?v=DvdfO0lq4rQ

Posted by colqal | Report as abusive