In September of 2002, the FBI arrested six alleged Al Qaeda members in Lackawana, New York. The New York Times photographer Edward Keating was sent to Lackawana on assignment and submitted an image of a young boy holding a toy gun in front of an Arab-owned grocery.

The photo was published in The New York Times with the following caption: “Brandon Benzo, 6, outside a store in Lackawanna, N.Y., where Yahya Goba and another suspect were arrested in a raid last Friday. The boy was playing with a toy gun his grandmother gave him on his birthday.”

Three photographers, also on assignment in Lackawana, claimed they saw Keating direct the boy as he created the image. Mr. Keating acknowledges that the boy followed him across street to the store where he was photographed.

The New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review conducted separate investigations into the incident. The Times published a correction: “The editors concluded, and the photographer acknowledged, that the boy’s gesture had not been spontaneous.” Mr. Keating left the paper shortly thereafter. Mr. Keating disputes the context in which the photo was published, placing the blame on The New York Times editors. 


"Although the NY Times “Metro” desk had initially assigned the story to me, once in Lackawanna I was contacted by the photo editors from both The NY Times Magazine and “Week In Review.”  When I shot this picture, midweek, I had in mind a “conceptual, non-news photo” to help illustrate a broader story on the fear of an expanding network of terror cells that might be infiltrating the country.
The photo was then filed electronically, not with that day’s news photos, but two days later in time to make the “Week in Review” deadline for the Sunday edition.  
The day before the photo was published, I received a phone call from “Metro,” which had apparently accessed the photo from the Week In Review folder and were looking for more information. I told them the photo was a portrait, i.e., not appropriate for use as a news picture.  They said they were desperate, but I told them I couldn’t change its provenance. The photograph was published, regardless. 
Our subjects are aware of our presence and we have to deal with it, whether we like it or not.  I engage my subjects and let them do what they do without any interference. I talk, I joke, I cajole. 
I do everything but direct. The Times does not have a policy on spontaneity regarding photography. Our presence as photographers has an immediate impact on those around us, and if every photograph had to pass this newfangled spontaneity test, we would all be working from behind duck blinds or satellites."

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Image copyright Edward Keating / The New York Times