On March 1, AP reporter Nomaan Merchant published a story about “Trail Life,” the new scouting alternative for families that don’t like new gay-friendly policies in the Boy Scouts. Merchant’s story showed up in various places, including the San Jose Mercury News.
The story featured a lead image snapped by AP staff photographer LM Otero — a portion of which we’ve cropped, above, for its news value.
Controversy over that photo has grown over the last three days as outrage built on Twitter and other sites — the photo appeared to show a Texas Trail Life scout group standing in a circle and making what looked an awful lot like Nazi salutes.
The original caption on the photo at the Mercury News indicated that Otero had photographed the scouts as they were “reciting the creed” of Trail Life.
By Monday, however, corrections to that caption had showed up at the Washington Times and at the Mercury News, which swapped out the photo with another for the story’s lead image (MSN, on the other hand, removed the image entirely). Said the new caption: “Trail Life members move their arms as they sing ‘Taps’ in a circle during a meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas.”
The AP appeared to be admitting that the photo captured the boys while their arms were moving, rather than while making a stiff-armed salute.
Yesterday, we sent an e-mail to Trail Life hoping for further explanation of what was going on in the photograph, and we received this reply from its chairman, John Stemberger.
First thanks for writing and for your thoughtful concern. We were horrified when we saw the photo in question on the MSN site and immediately investigated the situation. This is what we learned… Many Boy Scout Troops have a tradition of ending their troop meetings with the boys gathering in a circle and then singing the song “Taps” which is a slow ceremonial piece of music played or sung at the end of the day. The Boy Scouts doing this start singing the song with their hands raised straight into the air and then gradually lower their hands till they get to the end of the song when hands are at their side. This longstanding Boy Scout tradition was being followed with this Texas Trail Life troop using the Trail Life sign. The Trail Life sign is a standard military salute using the full hand with all four fingers. Unfortunately the reporter (either intentionally or unintentionally) caught this photograph at the exact angle which makes their arms look like they are in some kind of a stationary mid-air salute– which they are not. We have contacted the Associated Press and demanded that they remove the photo from their archives. Unfortunately, they have not complied with our demand to date. However they did change the text under the photo from “boys reciting the creed” to an explanation that the boys were singing “taps” and lowering their hands so at least the viewer/ reader understands what is happening in the photo. Several unfriendly blogs online are likely still carrying it.
We’ve asked the AP for a response. Merchant’s story was a careful and fair description of the conservative scout organization, but was the photo misleading and a cheap shot?
UPDATE: The AP says that the error on its caption was “unintentional.” Here’s the message we received from Paul Colford, the AP’s Director of Media Relations:
The caption on the AP photo in question, which was among those originally sent with the story to our member news organizations last Wednesday (in advance of Sunday publication), was corrected on Saturday, as follows: CORRECTS BOYS ARE SINGING “TAPS,” NOT RECITING ORGANIZATION’S CREED – In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members move their arms as they sing “Taps” in a circle during a meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
The correction resulted from contact with John Stemberger and Ron Orr, of Trail Life, both of whom said the original caption was inaccurate.
Any suggestion that the photo shows the boys giving a salute was unintentional.
We were unfamiliar with the notion of scouts performing gestures to “Taps,” but then at Twitter we saw that Daily Kos editor David Waldman had found this gem on YouTube involving Girl Scouts…