November 16, 2008


Maryland Gomez, 61, was killed early Saturday morning when a tornado destroyed her home in Kenly, North Carolina. The Raleigh News and Observer ran the photo above, dominating page 1A above the fold in their Sunday paper. The photo is credited to Cary News photographer named Michael McLoone, and shows a Gomez family photo of the victim amid the wreckage of her home.

I may very well be wrong, but I suspect that this photo is staged.

Tornadoes are capable of astounding choreography, dancing over one home without disturbing a shingle, only to smash a neighboring home to kindling. Sometimes they'll even demolish an entire home, only to leave items in a single room almost untouched.

But I find it very hard to believe that:

this particular tornado,
on this particular night,
smashed this particular home,
and killed this particular woman,
and placed this particular photo,
ripped so delicately from its frame,
on this particular half of a smashed table,
with no human intervention,
while all beyond it is chaos.

Update: The N&O responds via email:

...There was no staging or Photoshop manipulation involved in the photo My [sic] Michael McLoone from the tornado aftermath. The situation was exactly as the photographer found it, and was not altered. This was indicated by the photographer in his communication with the photo desk on that day, and I have confirmed that in another conversation. Several friends, family members, and neighbors had been through the site, working to recover belongings of the family, and others had brought items found nearby back to the scene, where they were left.

It appears that the family photograph may have been placed on the table by human hands in the aftermath of the storm; the editors are simply claiming that the photographer was not responsible for the manipulation.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at November 16, 2008 09:20 PM

It does look odd to have that one untouched picture there, but I gotta wonder... why would someone doctor a photo like that? Where's the benefit to the photographer?

Posted by: ConservativeWanderer (formerly C-C-G) at November 16, 2008 09:46 PM

CY -
You aren't suggesting that the media primps might be pimpin", are you?

Posted by: emdfl at November 16, 2008 09:47 PM

I wouldn't say "doctored," and am tempted not to lay blame on the photographer. I'm a career reporter, with a lot of photo experience from working for papers with no dedicated photobug. It's not unusual, if the scene's been cleared, to arrange the detritus for a poignant picture, the same way did at that accident scene.
You work to ensure the cutline reflects the intervention. Photo guys suggest their own cutlines but, in the view of copy editors, most shooters are terrible writers. So the copy guys rewrite the caption, often leaving out some context.
As you may have in claiming dishonesty on the photographer's part.

Posted by: dave in eclectic at November 16, 2008 10:04 PM

Lets dont go there please.

Posted by: rosco at November 16, 2008 10:46 PM

tornados are wierd. i'm from a small town in WI that has been hit several times over the last decade (mostly minor, one died a couple years ago)

anyway, my dad owns and operates a company that manufactures packaging. the presses that make the stuff are several tons. a semi trailer full of the packaging weighs almost nothing.

a tornado hit one year, ripped off parts of the roof, and most of the presses were moved several feet, if not tens of feet.

the foam packaging on the other side of the room, stacked up neatly to dry, didn't move an inch. to this day it is still the creepiest thing i've ever seen.

Posted by: John at November 16, 2008 11:07 PM


Posted by: Adriane at November 17, 2008 02:29 AM


Posted by: Gator at November 17, 2008 10:28 AM


Rearranging a scene to form a "a poignant picture" is staging the news, a dishonest manipulation no different ethically than doctoring a photo in PhotoShop, or selectively editing a quote to place it in a different context.

In each and every instance, it distorts reality, and therefore distorts the news. I'm very sad that you've worked for editors with such "moral flexibility" that they allow such shoddy journalism.

As for my part, I never claimed with any degree of certainty that this photo was staged, but instead said that I suspected it was, and provided my reasons for thinking so. I provided plenty of context to explain why I thought this photo may have been staged.

It remains to be seen if the photo editors of the News & Observer will be as transparent in explaining how this photo came to be.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at November 17, 2008 10:54 AM

Where's the stuffed animals?

Posted by: PA at November 17, 2008 02:47 PM