Viral Photos from the Navy Yard Tragedy Don’t Show a Shooting Victim

Update: The Associated Press has re-released the photos, and is now confirming that they DO show scenes related to the Navy Yard shooting.


A widely distributed image used to illustrate stories about Monday’s horrific shooting at the Washington Navy Yard likely had nothing to do with the tragedy, offering a cautious tale of modern media overreach.

Don Andress, an aide to Rep. Steve Horsford (D-Nev.), actually grabbed two dramatic images that show a man lying on the ground while passersby attend to him a few blocks away from the Navy Yard shortly after news of the shooting became known. He assumed the stricken man was a shooting victim and shared the photos with colleague Tim Hogan.

Hogan shared the images on Twitter, where both photos immediately went viral.

With few images coming from the scene due to a security lockdown, both photos (and in particular the first one) were soon being retweeted hundreds of times and drawing messages from numerous media organizations interested in using them. Hogan gave them permission but warned: “I can’t confirm details re: nature of photo. Happened block away from Navy Yard. Staffer took shot.”

The Associated Press posted the photo at 11:22 a.m. Eastern time, listing it as “authenticated.” About 90 minutes later, it issued an update saying the photo was being “investigated.” Four more hours passed before the AP finally pulled the image with a note that it had been unable to confirm the picture was related to the shooting and advising subscribers not to use it.

By then, however, the image was already posted on numerous outlets covering the tragedy, with few including any disclaimers.

Paul Colford, director of media relations for the AP, acknowledged to The Atlantic that the agency was hasty. “We should have vetted the circumstance shown in these photos more carefully.”

Meanwhile, it’s still unclear exactly what the photos show. Those familiar with the area, however, pinpointed the location as a pharmacy nearly half a mile from the building where the shootings occurred. And there’s not a trace of blood on the ground.

The leading theory at this point is that the man had a heart attack, which might or might not have been related to shock from the shooting.

(via The Atlantic)

Image credits: Photograph by Don Andress

  • Mike

    News outlets should sue AP out of existence for distributing false information and misleading news consumers.

  • gochugogi

    So you actually believe lawyers and litigation will cure errors and inaccuracy in news reporting? Good luck with that…

  • chphotovideo

    so basically the entire US gov should be shut down under those same ideas hahaha

  • Spoken Word™

    You should be sued out of existence for advocating the filing of frivolous lawsuits.

  • Chris Kimball

    That is why news outlets should be sourcing images from photojournalists, not joe with a cell phone that could be anything from anywhere.

  • Renato Murakami

    Not very surprizing seeing as news outlets and agencies tend to jump at photos and publish them before fact checking depending on the content… this is becoming the rule rather than the exception lately.
    Interestingly enough, they are adopting the exact same sorts of practices that they condemned news blogs and overall internet news making of doing. Not enough fact checking, jumping to conclusions without proper investigation, shallow pieces that are nothing more than copy-paste of content that can be found elsewhere, using non-professionals to cover and produce material for their pieces, etc.

  • ShadesofBlue

    Do they put up yellow tape for a heart attack? Doubtful, but possible.

  • dan110024

    Unfortunately not surprising one bit.

  • Daz

    I checked on what fox was reporting and it was so stupid they just made crap up untillthey found out the truth how is this news? 3 shooters, 2 shooters, 1 shooter, 3 guns, 1 gun, AR 15 just guess until you get it right or you get facts.
    CNN standing outside naming everything they see like a child would “oh look two cars drove by i don’t know what they are doing” whats the point of this?.

  • David_Evans

    “a cautious tale”

    I think you mean a cautionary tale. The people involved here were not cautious enough.

  • Stephen Sidlo

    Lets be fair, a lot you see is verified and checked, and people do not make those assumptions. Its rare considering the data on how much is used. Regardless of the photographer, news desks do still need to check. Also pay attention to the caption! Not the image itself.

  • Stephen Sidlo

    Hmm, PJ’s used to buy film roll of citizens at 1920’s to 1950’s crime scenes. If you wait for a pro these days, the moments gone. Citizens complement the PJ. The decisive moment can be covered by anyone. Always look at the accompanying text.

  • Stephen Sidlo

    Did any text say ‘shooting victim’ – I’m confused. Surely this can still be tweeted as authentically unverified, and published as a man down near the scene?

  • theart

    I remember wen Air France 358 crashed in Toronto, and CNN spent the entire afternoon with a parade of breathless experts saying how nobody could have possibly survived. All they had on the scene was a traffic camera which, of course, was on the wrong side of the plane to see everyone getting out alive.

  • Chris Kimball

    That is a valid point Stephen and I guess it comes down to better vetting of information but my feeling is that all to often, something comes out wrong because of the “rush to get to press”. I would rather see no news than to get wrong news or misinformation.

  • kenyee

    Fact checking and *extremely* biased reporting is a huge issue w/ media nowadays. It’s more like papazzi Enquirer stories than anything else, especially now w/ the iPhone reporters. They get a story and then “spin it” so it gets more viewers.

    e.g., in this shooting, most media was reporting an AR-15 being used because they wanted to tie in the Sandy Hook crap so they could push for more gun control legislation (which the politicians also want). Then we find out after all the real fact-checking it was only a shotgun and the guy should never have been able to buy it because he had a lot of violent outbreaks and had mental issues the police and navy base has multiple shots at stopping him with (totally different story).
    The real takeaway from the story is that there are lots of nutjobs out there that our “criminal justice” system has decided to leave out on the streets, but that wouldn’t be a good story for the media or politicians :-P

  • Chris Kimball

    Tweeting it as a man down near the scene is a long way from the AP distributing the image to news agencies and them running with it and giving the impression this was somehow connected to the shooting, all the while knowing that they had no information on what was really happening in the picture.

  • Bob Dobbs

    “Sandy Hook crap”

    Yeah, that’s about all I need to know about you.

  • Stephen Sidlo

    Exactly. ‘Joe with camera’ is trying to tell the news, the desks that deal with the deluge (and I know I work on one) have to sift and sort. News orgs need to understand that this is imperative to get right, hire and train. The argument on why pro’s are being fired can continue elsewhere though!

  • byoung328

    It’s not just the AP. Heck, most mainstream breaking news articles now come with a disclaimer at the bottom stating that they aren’t responsible for any ‘untruths’ that may be reported. Fact checking and journalism is dead. It’s now nothing more than sick and twisted “entertainment’.

  • kenyee

    Sorry…that needed elaboration but that msg was getting too long already :-P

    “crap” = media screwups consistently + politicians proposing solutions that wouldn’t have prevented it. The media reported the police found the AR-15 in the guy’s trunk and that wasn’t cleared up until a month later by the police. Then the media kept pushing the emotion button while the politicians proposed a crapload of solutions that would *not* have prevented that tragedy (and the politicians then used the emotion button to ram those through in a few states).

    I come from an engineering background where you analyze a problem by asking if what you propose will actually solve the problem, so yes, this is “crap”. If you want a true solution, you can’t make decisions based on how you feel emotionally. We’ll keep having these tragedies until everyone takes a step back and analyzes the problems/issues properly instead of blaming inanimate objects all the time instead of asking why crazy people are all over the place…

  • Keith Willoughby

    Straw man (“blaming inanimate objects”) and begging of the question (“crazy people”), so, doctor heal thyself.

  • kenyee

    yep, that was helpful :-P

  • Keith Willoughby

    If your engineering analysis was actually relevant to this, you wouldn’t be using the standard NRA mischaracterization of gun control proponents (nobody thinks guns kill people; free availability of guns makes it easier for people to kill people) and you wouldn’t be making a question-begging assumption that spree killers are all crazy.

    Hope that helps.