Seattle Photographer Daniel Sheehan's Photo Blog

New York Times Runs Staged Photograph


The New York Times ran an unusual note from the editor last Friday stating:

“A picture on May 5 with the continuation of a front-page article about the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and the strategic advantages it offers to Taliban insurgents fighting American troops, showed a silhouetted Taliban logistics tactician, who was interviewed for the article, holding a rifle, creating the impression that the weapon belonged to him. The Times subsequently learned from the photographer that the rifle belonged to the owner of a home in Pakistan where the interview took place, and that the Taliban tactician had held the weapon only for the purpose of the photograph.

“Had The Times known this information at the time of publication, it would not have used the photograph to illustrate the article.”

I was wondering about who had made the picture and what the circumstances about it were. I found out today well known and respected Washington DC photographer John Harrington posted some information he dug up about the controversy. I think it is especially interesting to read what he has to say about the relationship between what the NY Times  stands for and what they pay the photographers who contribute to their newspaper.

He says:

” Zackary Canepari has a pretty big problem. At the ripe old age of 30 or so, he is likely now persona non-grata at the New York Times, and his journalistic ethics will also likely give other editorial publications pause to hire him.” Then he continues ….Unfortunately, when publications pay a pittance for their photographers, and do not pay a living wage, the photographers with the integrity necessary to work for the top publications in the world do other things – their own projects, books, commercial work, and so on. Heck, even a few teach classes and workshops. Because the New York Times has not, well, pardon the pun, kept up with the times, in terms of pay, they have reapt what they have sown. I would not be surprised that there are others they didn’t catch, and in an era where photographers are driven to compete, whether Zack’s posed photo, which is over the line, to the Reuters photographer with the “enhanced” smoke , which is egregiously over the line, until photographers are paid fairly enough that they can do their jobs – and, it should be said, are staffers with job security, pressures like this will continue to errode the public’s trust in journalistic works. The problem is, once people realize this and think about course-correcting, it will be too late, and visual journalism will have been dealt a mortal blow around the world.

PDNPulse first reported, in New York Times Withdraws Posed News Photo (5/19/08), about the photo above, and the Times’ withdrawal of the photograph, including an apology that PDN ran.”

I used to do assignments for the Times over the years. In fact I believe my first assignment was back in 1981. The going rate for a days assignment was $200. The last time I worked for them was a few years ago and the rate more than 20 years later was still $200. I stopped because they stopped paying for the expenses of making the photos like reimbursement for film and digital processing they used to pay for and then a year later they demanded that all freelance photographers who wish to get work from them sign a contract that gave them the right to uses the photos again without paying any compensation, and they wanted to sell the rights to use the pictures to third parties and take a 50% share of the third party payment. I think my memory is correct on these details. I am sorry to see how they treat photographers because otherwise I enjoy reading their paper. It is sad that some succumb to the temptation to make their photos more sexy by staging news pictures in the hope of getting a good reputation as a photojournalist. All it takes is getting caught once to lose it all. This is only the most recent incident we have heard about.

Go to John’s excellent blog Photo Business News & Forum to ready the whole thing. It is at


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