- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

Blog this

It was one of our freelance correspondents who first called my attention to a “blog” making the rounds on the Internet that claimed the widely distributed photographs of rescuers pulling bodies out of the rubble in Qana last Sunday had been staged for a gullible press corps.

On the Web site, eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/07/milking-it.html, are a number of photographs in which the same rescue workers can be seen lifting the same bodies from the ruins.

Because those photographs, filed by wire service and network photographers, bear widely varying time signatures, the blogger argues that the rescuers kept the bodies at the scene all day, parading them around for any willing journalists who turned up to witness the show.

There is a lot that can be said about the press coverage of Qana. Most news outlets were very quick to report the initial death toll, usually put at 54 or 56, but much slower to respond when Human Rights Watch announced days later that the real toll was 28 dead and 13 missing.

The initial reports also failed to try very hard to verify Israeli claims that Hezbollah militants had been firing rockets from the building where the people died, or somewhere close to it. But I take the blogger’s claim as an offensive smear against the journalists who are risking their lives to cover this war.

News coverage occurs in direct proportion to the number of reporters with access to a story, and unfortunately for Israel, the Qana incident occurred just a few miles from Tyre, the main city in southern Lebanon that has become a major base for journalists covering the war.

That corps of several dozen reporters and photographers was already buzzing with news of the bombing when The Washington Times reporter Betsy Pisik and photographer Rodney Lamkey Jr. woke up last Sunday.

“It’s normally a drive of 15 or 20 minutes, but it took longer because we had to sort ourselves out into convoys for safety,” Miss Pisik says. “We made the trip in clusters of vehicles — two here, five there. We all stayed in contact by cell phone.”

Black tarpaulins

Miss Pisik says she and Mr. Lamkey were in the second wave of vehicles to reach the village, arriving about 9 a.m.

“We took off at a trot down the road,” she says. “The most direct route was to jump off the top of a pancaked building into soft pile of rubble and race down an incline to the road where the house was.

“We knew where to go by seeing the other journalists. Also, the villagers pointed us in the direction, they wanted us to know what had happened.

“The very first thing I saw was two bodies — a man and a woman, she on a stretcher and covered with blankets. The man had died in such a way that his hand was reaching up and rigor mortis had set it that way. It was very eerie.”

Miss Pisik said she and Mr. Lamkey remained at the scene for several hours, talking to residents of the village and trying to piece together what had happened during the night.

“By the time we left, the bodies that could be removed easily had been extracted, I didn’t count. They were trying to bring in heavy machinery to pull away more of the debris and find more bodies.”

Each body she saw recovered was placed in a black plastic tarpaulin and carried up the same incline to a refrigerated truck. From there, it was driven back to a hospital in Tyre, where reporters were able to see them that afternoon.

“I heard from reporters who got to Qana later that afternoon that they saw rescue attempts and rubble being moved, but no one was parading bodies,” she says.

As for the “suspicious” time stamps, AP photo supervisor Jim Collins says those reflect the time the photos were filed to the wire or the Internet. The wide disparity in times reflects the time it took the various photographers to get back to Tyre and transmit their pictures back to their editors.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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