The Oklahoma City Bombings
It was a few weeks after the Oklahoma City Bombings in April 19, 1995. Not only was the story on the covers of Time and Newsweek, it seemed as if both magazines had used the same photo. Time editors who had brought the rights to the photos of Charles Porter IV were furious. Newsweek claimed that their photo was by another man named Lester LaRue. [Neither Porter nor LaRue were professionals; their photos came to prominence in that old-fashioned way before Internet: they went to local photostores to develop his photos, and the photostores tipped off the magazines and photo agencies].
Unsatisfied, Time accused Sygma, the photo agency which represented Porter, of double-dealing and using an alias to sell another photo by Porter to Newsweek. Forensic experts were called in to testify that two photos were indeed taken by two different photographers, standing three feet apart, at almost the exact same moment – as fireman Chris Field cradled 1-year-old Baylee Almon out of the bombed Federal building, in a pose reminiscent of iconic Pieta.
[Outside the United States, Porter’s photo featured in all British newspapers except the Sun, which believed the level of gore in the photo was unacceptable for the general reading public. The Independent printed it in black-and-white for the same reason. The Guardian, which shared the Sun’s convictions when the photo first appeared, printed it on the bombing’s first anniversary.]
The fallout from the photo was to be worthy of a grand literary tragedy. The baby’s mother, Aren, who couldn’t bear to see her daughter on the day of the bombing was confronted by a fullpage photo on the cover of her daily newspaper. She also came under fire from other victims of the attack, who were jealous of the attention (and donations) she received from the photo. As Chris Field was flown around the country by TV stations and talkshows, he too came under criticism from his colleagues who claimed they rescued more babies than he did.
But the worst came to Lester LaRue, who tried to commercialize his photo by publishing it on T-shirts, posters, and other memorabilia. Aren denounced this profiteering and discovered that that LaRue, who was working for a local gas company at the time, was using the company’s camera to take the photo. The company didn’t want the negative publicity and decided to bury the photo. LaRue refused to cede the copyright, and was fired from his job of over 30 years. He also lost the protracted legal battle which ensued; the company donated away all profit from the photograph to charities and his version of the photograph is rarely seen these days.
The next year, when Porter was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, his photo was not even mentioned.