By: Joe Strupp

Editors Reflect On Use of Eli?n Photos

They’re known simply as The Raid and The Reunion, two photos taken
hours apart the day Eli?n Gonz?lez was seized from his Miami relatives’
home by gun-toting federal agents and reunited with the family of his
father, Juan Miguel Gonz?lez.

The images – one of a frightened Eli?n grabbed at gunpoint from a
closet hiding place and the other of the child smiling with his arm
around his father’s shoulder, grinning for the camera just hours later
– sparked debate this week in newsrooms across the country as editors
discussed what play to give the strikingly different photos.

For some editors, the militaristic shot by Associated Press free-lancer
Alan Diaz of a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agent
sporting riot gear and pointing an automatic weapon in the direction of
Eli?n – cringing in the arms of a fisherman who saved him from drowning
months earlier – offered the most newsworthy image of the day.
Speculation has already begun that the shot is a shoo-in for a Pulitzer
Prize the next time around.

‘It was the most controversial photo,’ said Marty Baron, executive
editor of The Miami Herald, which ran the raid picture across one-third
of its April 23 front page, while placing a smaller version of the
reunion photo in the upper right corner. ‘There were a lot of elements
that made it the perfect picture to play big.’

Many other papers took the Herald’s approach, including the Chicago
Tribune, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, the New York Post, and
Long Island, N.Y.-based Newsday. Each published large versions of the
raid photo across the front page, along with smaller shots of the
reunion image. ‘We had a very lengthy discussion about it, and we
decided both photos were important to convey the actions of the day,’
said Tribune Managing Editor Ann Marie Lipinski. ‘But the agent in the
home was very newsworthy.’

A small group of newsroom chiefs, however, chose to play up the reunion
photo – submitted by Eli?n’s father – that depicted the 6-year-old
happily reunited with his father and stepfamily. For those editors, it
offered the final outcome of the long, emotional day.

‘I felt the story was about the family reunion at the end of the
conflict,’ said Edward Kosner, editor in chief of the New York Daily
News, which used a cropped version of the reunion photo as its sole
Page One art on April 23. ‘There was a freshness about it.’

The New York Times also led with the reunion photo as its top Page One
art, while publishing a different photo of the raid that depicted Eli?n
being carried out of the home by INS agents. The Diaz raid picture ran
inside on Page 16.

For The Washington Post, the best use of the photos was to place them
both above the Page One fold, side by side, at equal sizes, according
to Managing Editor Steve Coll. He said the balanced images were needed
to give the proper perspective. ‘There was a desire to cover the range
of events of the day,’ said Coll. ‘We felt that they expressed both
ends of the narrative.’

Washington Post Director of Photography Joe Elbert had a slightly
different perspective. ‘I knew I was hostage to both images when they
came through. I saw them as propaganda,’ he told E&P sister magazine
Photo District News (PDN), noting that the father-and-son image was
taken by a U.S. government agent with an instant camera and distributed
by the father’s attorney.

Besides The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times appears to be the
only other large metro daily to run the images at equal size, PDN
reported on its Web site (http://www.pdn-pix.com). ‘The first picture
was arguably out of context and needed to be balanced,’ Deputy Director
of Photography Steve Stroud told the photo newswire. ‘Clearly the
picture with the agent is more dramatic, but it is only a small part of
the story that unfolded that day.’

As newsrooms debated the use of the photos, their striking contrasts
drew a range of opinions on Op-Ed pages and news Web sites nationwide.
From complaints that the AP photographer should not have been allowed
inside the home to accusations that the reunion photo was actually an
out-of-date picture taken months earlier, the range of viewpoints was

‘For its drama, immediacy, and truth, that picture has undoubtedly
already won next year’s Pulitzer Prize,’ Washington Post Columnist
Charles Krauthammer wrote about the raid photo. New York Times
Columnist Thomas L. Friedman weighed in with his own view on April 25,
supporting the raid and opining that the photos told a good story.
‘That picture of Eli?n and his father illustrated the very parent-child
bond that our law was written to preserve,’ he wrote. Chicago Tribune
Columnist Irv Kupcinet agreed, writing that ‘the photo showing a
smiling and happy Eli?n in the arms of his equally happy father told
the real story of their relationship and emphasized why Eli?n should
eventually return to Cuba.’

On the Web, Joan Walsh, a Salon.com columnist, described her first
glimpse of the raid photo in emotional terms, not only calling it
‘Pulitzer-destined’ but also saying ‘tears came to my eyes


Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is an
associate editor for Editor & Publisher magazine.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

Follow by Email
Visit Us

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *