One of the unspoken duties concerning our blanket coverage of the President when he is in public is the “death watch”, which is, quite simply, being there “in case” something terrible should happen. It is the reason the Associated Press photographs each and every take off and landing of Air Force One or Marine One, just “in case” a terrible mishap should occur during take-off or landing, or somewhere in between. We don’t carry our blanket coverage to that extreme, but we certainly are with the “body” whenever he is in public.
Now here’s the thing. Our job is really not unlike that of the Secret Service that protects “the body”. But, 99.99999 percent of the time nothing happens. So how do you stay constantly alert and at the ready in case something does happen. Well, the Secret Service certainly is. That is their sole purpose. But photographers? Well, we tend to walk about during a presidential event, looking for different angles, or simply taking a breather when we think we have exhausted the photo opportunities of the event. Often, we have our eyes deeply embedded in our laptops, filing photos as the President is still speaking. So, are we always as alert and fixed upon “the body” as the Secret Service is? Of course not.
So, imagine our surprise when a man hurls a pair of shoes at the President. I had taken a position side on, midway between the podiums and the back press riser. I had anticipated that would be a good position for the signing of documents that was due to occur immediately after the remarks from the podiums. The setting of the remarks was incredibly unremarkable for photo possibilities, so after shooting that, I had moved to prepare for the signing of documents hoping for better.
About 10-feet from me I heard a loud voice. Protester? Probably. Not unusual at a Presidential event. My camera was trained on the President. The voice caught my attention again, so after the President ducked from the first shoe, I immediately turned to see where it came from. By that time, the second shoe had been thrown and the culprit was already on the ground, smothered by Iraqi security and Secret Service agents who skirmished directly beneath me.
All I could see was backs and butts, but I held my camera aloft hoping to get something dramatic. I never saw the culprit’s face. There were so many agents on top of him; they dragged them off, again, backs toward me. I pondered following, but thought better of it, remembering my job is to stay with the President. To the sound of blood-curdling howls as the culprit was being taken away and beaten, I returned to the front of the room to document President Bush’s reaction.