Photo follies: More on the U.S. News tire fire

First, read the section about U.S. News & World Report here. Make sure you read the last few updates at the bottom, too. Otherwise you won’t know what I’m talking about.

Two different readers from Israel e-mailed me this morning about that item — one of them claiming to have done so while katyushas were falling in the area. They make the same point: the photo of the big tire fire comes from an incident in mid-July involving what Hezbollah claimed was the downing of an Israeli jet. That turned out to be bull, although there does seem to be consensus that something fell out of the sky and landed in the area where the photo was taken. The IAF initially claimed it was a leaflet container that was hit in mid-air by a Hezbollah SAM and then, er, just so happened to land on a truck carrying katyushas, thereby causing one of the rockets to bounce out of the truck and, um, accidentally fire off in the direction of Beirut.

I’m not kidding.

The IDF then determined that it wasn’t a leaflet container or an SAM at all. An IAF jet had attacked a long-range-missile launcher, causing the missile to accidentally fire and crash near Beirut. Al Jazeera caught it on tape. There’s some brief footage of the crash scene, although I can’t tell if it’s the tire fire or not. I think I see tires in the lower right-hand corner of the frame at one point, but maybe not. According to this contemporaneous bulletin board posting, the falling object (he mistakes the missile fuselage for a jet’s fuel tank) landed between Kfarchima and al-Warwar; the Ynet article identifies the place the missile crashed as al-Warwar and the caption that accompanied the tire-fire photo in Time magazine (which I reproduced in my last spot) identified it as an Israeli jet crash in … Kfarchima.

So I think what we’re looking at here is, indeed, a garbage dump fire. But it wasn’t a fire deliberately set by Hezbollah to make the scene look more dramatic.

It was a fire accidentally set by Hezbollah while positioning a missile that could have hit Tel Aviv.

The larger scene remains, of course, ridiculously staged, right down to those jihadi sunglasses I dig so much. In fact, recall that Thomas S., who tipped me to this originally, noted on his Flickr page that two different photographers from Reuters were there that day (one of them being Adnan Hajj). But neither one of them took the shot of the same scene that ran in Time magazine; that was Bruno Stevens of Cosmos.

How many of them were out there? And how’d they all know where to show up?

Did Hezbollah do a cattle call and drive them all out to the scene so shades boy could do his little turn on the catwalk?

Many questions remain unanswered, my friends. Although we can scratch one off the list now that the Times has eaten a little shinola on the Lebanese pieta that wasn’t.

Update: Backspin previews the next round of Lebanese child casualties. Israel’s fault, of course.


Update: A superb point by Bob Owens:

A review of the Yahoo! photostreams (compilations of various media photographers’ work released throughout the day) coming out of Iraq and Lebanon paint two very different pictures. While the Iraqi insurgency often sought to crave media attention (especially when it was more active as an insurgency in 2004 and 2005, as opposed to today’s more conflict between Sunni and Shiiite Iraqis), Hezbollah’s tightly-controlled media war seeks to portray Hezbollah itself as something of a ghost.

Scan the photos coming out of Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, and you’ll see and unending stream of dramatic photos of dead women and children and anguished rescue workers climbing through the remains of bombed-out residential buildings, and you will see heart-rending photos of toys in the rubble. You will see mourning. You will see pain. You will see a civilian infrastructure in tatters.

What you will not see, except in very rare cases, is Hezbollah.

Update: Rusty and Mary K catch Koranmania. Some of what Mary mentions is inherent to news photography; unless you’re shooting telephoto, you’re in the scene, however much you might aspire to the contrary. And there is, to be sure, a fine line between drama and propaganda, a line that can get pretty faint when the subject is politically charged.

It’s one thing to have a single photographer lurking snapping shots furtively and another thing to have a gaggle. Check out Mary’s photo of Cindy Sheehan. That’s not photography; it’s pageantry. Our boys in Lebanon seem to travel in gaggles as a matter of course, and since Arab standards of objectivity appear to be a bit more nuanced than our own to begin with…

Well, like Josh Marshall, I don’t want draw rolled eyes. But think about it.

Update: Charles and I were bantering about this back and forth over e-mail last night for about half an hour. It does look weird.

But why, I ask you? Why would they do it?