AP finally spikes infamous Nazi Christian Youth (not) photo

It took a while, but the final shoe dropped the other day in the mysterious case of those — What did Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher call them? — Nazi Christian Youth in a church in North Richland Hills, Texas.

I am referring, of course, to that Associated Press photo what showed a group of Train Life boys standing in a circle singing the song “Taps.” It’s an old end-of-the-day Scouting tradition and it involves a symbolic, sun-setting gesture, too.

Alas, the original AP cutline missed, or hid, that fact:

ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014 AND THEREAFTER — In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members form a circle and recite the organization’s creed during 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)

A later cutline, used by the San Jose Mercury News, helped a bit:

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. (LM Otero/AP)

So what is the problem, readers might ask (if they have not been following this story)?

Click here to see the photo in question, complete with what appears to be a salute, shall we say, drawn from World War II-era Germany.

As I wrote in a post the other day:

Isn’t it amazing that journalists at the Associated Press decided to focus on this precise and rather dangerous — in terms of negative symbolic content — moment in the arc of those slowly descending young arms? What a coincidence!

Or perhaps this was an innocent mistake.

Apparently, folks at AP have decided that something did, in fact, go wrong in the editorial process — somewhere.

Thus, this tweet from media blogger Erik Wemple at The Washington Post:

The lede on that Wemple report:

John Stemberger is chairman of the board of Trail Life USA, a scouting organization that doesn’t allow participation from openly gay boys. The Associated Press’s (AP) Nomaan Merchant recently completed an in-depth story about this alternative to the Boy Scouts, paired with this photo. When Stemberger’s kids saw the picture, they said, “Oh gosh, that’s Hitler’s sign, daddy,” Stemberger told the Erik Wemple Blog today.

That’s indeed the way it looks. …

Bad enough that Trail Life has been snowed under with e-mails and a pair of threats that Stemberger, who’s based in Florida, has deemed scary enough that he’s going to report them to local and federal authorities. “Both talk about mass murders,” says Stemberger.

When asked just how he links the reaction to the photo itself, Stemberger responds that he has done more than 400 interviews about the recently launched Trail Life USA. “We’ve never had this kind of reaction, never had this vitriolic, vile reaction,” says Stemberger.

According to this report, AP did ship a corrected caption for the photo — trying to erase that inaccurate “creed” reference.

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)

Trail Life asked that the photo be spiked — period.

Meanwhile, Wemple asked the logical, journalistic question that someone at AP should have asked in the first place:

Why publish what is such an explosive photo, even if the caption explains it properly? …

AP responded: “The story would have been better served without this particular photo, which was too easily misread. It will be removed from our archives.”

Of course, the bigger issues linked to Wemple’s question, GetReligion readers may have noticed, remained unaddressed: Why was this photo selected from the various images shot during that assignment? Why was this photo shipped in the first place? What was the journalistic purpose of this image? What did it add to the story?

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Rosemarie

    +J.M.J+

    I’m curious; is there any online footage of these hand gestures for Taps? When I was in Girl Scouts as a child we did a series of gestures to that song, but it never involved an extended right arm with the palm facing down (the closest we came to that was an extended left arm with the palm down, but the right hand was touching the left shoulder). If there’s another set of hand gestures to that song, I wonder what it looks like.

    • Hal Duston

      I found a video of a scout camp group singing vespers and taps. Taps starts about 2:30 in, and the gesture is raising both hands palms down up and then lowering them again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8itb3FiXgSY
      The video is very dark, but if you view it full screen you should be able to get a basic idea of the gestures involved.

    • tmatt

      Check the earlier GR post. I linked to the Girl Scout version — on YouTube

  • Kodos

    Terry:

    Any idea how many editors would have reviewed this story and photo before it was sent out?

    I’m wondering if this egregiously prejudicial photo and caption slipped by one person, or was approved by a chain of persons. I simply cannot fathom how any journalist with a sense of fairness and accuracy would have allowed this photo to be published. It’s yellow journalism, pure and simple.

    Would a story about gay marriage have been run with a photo of a gay couple being married at the Folsom Street Fair?

    Not in a million years.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    As a retired history teacher it has always scalded me that the subject of History (or a related subject like U.S. Government) is always the one pushed aside to make room for the latest fad subject.
    When I started teaching History a number of decades ago, every student each year had to take at least one Math course, one English course, and one History (or related subject course).
    Now, with so many immigrants coming into our country, you would think American History and U.S. Government or U.S. Constitution courses would be a priority.
    But, no, we get “diversity” courses, feminist courses, minority courses, environmental courses, peace courses–But — real History????? I bring this up because so many stupid or ignorant mistakes made in the media seem to be the result illiteracy with regard to history. I wonder how many involved in covering the story about Trail Life USA even knew what a Nazi salute was.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X