Undocumented Illegal Aliens & The Republican Party Campaign Ads.
About 6.30 this morning, a series of persistent pings on my iphone woke me up. It was half a dozen emails from friends in America every one of which had a link attached. Each link took me to a different website but it was the same story each time. One of the e-mails was from Sanjiv Battacharya, a British journalist based in LA who I have worked with several times. He was convinced that a photo I took on a story we did together for British GQ in 2006 on The Minutemen, a citizen group concerned about the proliferation of illegal immigrants in the United States, had been used in two different Republican Party TV ad campaigns. The photo (above) is of three young Mexican men in a town square in Altar, Mexico. The TV ads, which are for the senatorial campaigns of Sharron Angle in Nevada and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, claim that these men are aliens illegally living in the United States. The fact that these men were Mexican citizens photographed in Mexico kind of negates their claims.
The picture was one of several used in the story that ran in British GQ in October 2006. Since then all of the pictures from that trip have resided in the Getty Images News Archive. I know that pictures from the story have been republished elsewhere from time to time but at this stage I do not know for sure if this particular one has been used anywhere else. I also do not know if the two Republican campaigns acquired the picture by legal means from the Getty site (we’re still waiting to find that out) or if they both just lifted it from somewhere else, maybe another magazine, or even my own website which has had the picture on in the past, but I think that is unlikely. Nevertheless, the issue that is bothering me is that the availability of the image via Getty, was supposed to be restricted to editorial use only. I would not classify the usage in these advertisements as editorial.
At this early stage the legal and usage issues are still too uncertain because the facts on how the photo was acquired are not yet known. My feelings on how the picture has been used, however, are quite clear. Fundamentally, a portrait of three Mexican men taken in Mexico, admittedly in the midst of a story about the Arizona Minutemen and their role in the illegal alien issue has been ripped away from the context of that story and used to portray the men in it as almost satanic modern day reds under the bed.
And to assuage any confusion about the picture, the caption on the Getty website that accompanies the image clearly states that these men were Mexican citizens photographed in their own country. Nowhere does it say that these men are illegal immigrants in the U.S. So even if the Republicans downloaded it from Getty they could have seen there and then that the purpose for which they intended to use it was off the mark.
Here’s the caption:
“ALTAR, MEXICO: Mexicans pose for a portrait whilst gathered in the town square of Altar, Mexico. Altar is located 40 miles from the US border and is the last major town that Mexicans reach before the dangerous crossing. Much of its economy is dependant upon these congregated Mexicans who can purchase numerous necessary provisions. The Minutemen, most of whom are white, retired, armed citizens devote much of their time to musters or vigilante border watches in the Arizona desert, preventing Mexican illegal immigrants flooding into the US. These Minutemen, who claim to simply watch and report to the border police, have received criticism for being a cover for white supremacists whilst others hail them as heroes. Either way, they have struck a cord with many Americans who sympathise with their mission to make an impact on the illegal immigrants that are flooding across the Mexican border at a faster rate than ever. It is estimated that around 750,000 illegal immigrants entered America in 2005, amounting to more than 2000 per day, joining the 12 million that already live there. (Photo by Chris Floyd/Getty Images)”
The men I met that morning in the Altar town square told me that they were farmers from the far south of Mexico and that that season’s crop had failed, leaving them with nothing to sell and no option, they felt, but to make the journey north to America to seek work. At the point that photograph was taken not one of them had ever set foot in America, and I have no idea if they ever did.
What would be great to discover now is that one or all of those dudes are working as gardeners for the Governors of Nevada or Louisiana.
The Washington Post have now written about this after calling me earlier today
I will try to update more on this as the facts are established.
22.24 BST – The news so far on the question of the licence of the image has become a little clearer, if not crystal clear. I just spoke to Aidan Sullivan a Senior VP at Getty Images and so far they have established that the picture has been licensed twice via the online system in the last 2 years. Once by AOL for a tiny news item and very recently indeed in 2008 by a design firm in Washington DC that do a lot of work for the Republican Party. However, we only know that the licence they purchased was an editorial one. For them to acquire a licence allowing usage in a TV ad of this nature they would have had to have contacted a real life human. Apparently, Getty do have someone in DC who deals exclusively with the political parties and they are looking into the question of whether or not anyone contacted this person for the rights to use it in a TV ad or if that licence was granted. The question of whether or not I was asked if I had any objections to this kind of usage cannot be raised until we are certain that the firm who licensed the image for editorial use did, in fact, make the right legal moves in gaining an advertising licence.
I’ve now added a wide selection of photographs from the original story, many previously unpublished, to my website.
13 Oct 2010: Woken up to discover that the Sharron Angle campaign has taken down her ad from youtube. Not sure about Vitter’s one yet.