WaPo Photog Breaks Rules for Hinckley Shot


Photo by erin m

In his column this week, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander took on an incident of staff photographer Gerald Martineau, who snapped a surreptitious photo of John Hinckley at St. Elizabeths Hospital in southeast DC. Hinckley is the would-be assassin of President Ronald Reagan, who not only shot Reagan, but two law enforcement officers and Press Secretary Jim Brady in 1981. He has been living at the mental hospital since 1982 and preparations are being made for his release sometime in the near future.

For a front-page story in the paper that ran April 26, Martineau entered the St. Elizabeths grounds and found Hinckley feeding some cats, whereupon he took photos from his car. Security was alerted and the guards detained Martineau upon his exit. After some back and forth, in which Martineau refused to allow security to view his photos, DC police were called and they threatened to arrest him if he didn’t hand over his memory card. After consulting with his bosses at the Post, that’s what he did.

Alexander goes over the points of the case and debates the merits of the two arguments — on one hand, that Martineau was in violation of the hospital’s no cameras policy and, as the hospital alleges, violated Hinckley’s dignity, and on the other, that  journalists have been known to flout such restrictions if it means getting a story, especially for the public good. Further, Hinckley is a public figure to an extent, and he’s certainly at a public facility. (St. Elizabeths is run by the DC Department of Mental Health.)

This is a sticky situation, and dare I say that Martineau’s explanation that he didn’t see the two “No Cameras” signs on his way in seems suspect as he was shooting from his car — meaning he was prepared to make a quick getaway. However, calling the police over a photography violation and then confiscating the memory card is a gross overreaction and right in line with many of the photographers’ rights abuses we report on all the time. Any time a photographer’s equipment is seized it’s almost certainly illegal and an overstep of the law.

Alexander brought up a good point, and that is that the photo could have been taken outside the institution on one of Hinckley’s many trips to a local store or to visit his mother in Virginia. It may have taken more time to stake Hinckley out, but there is no gray area there.

So, was the photographer taking a shortcut? Was he being arrogant, thinking he’s above the established rules? Or was he thinking it’s a harmless photo of a well-known individual out in the open, if not for the gates surrounding him?

(Incidentally, there is no trace of the photo on the paper’s web site as far as I can find.)

Article from the Washington Post

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1 Response to “WaPo Photog Breaks Rules for Hinckley Shot”



  1. 1 click Trackback on November 29, 2014 at 3:33 am

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