Embedded photographers, in the eyes of some, are the unsung heroes when historic events occur. Reflecting on the achievements of war photographers, one may not soon forget the photo taken as the U.S. flag was being raised over Iwo Jima by soldiers after the tiny South Pacific island was taken from the hands of the Japanese. And during the Obama presidency, no single photograph taken by a photographer may be as important as the one taken by Pete Souza when the president’s staff was in the situation room as Osama bin Laden’s compound was being infiltrated by U.S. personnel.
After all, it had been nearly 10 years since bin Laden claimed responsibility for attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon using hijacked commercial airliners as flying missiles. Bin Laden’s whereabouts had been the question on the minds of many, including the military, which was engaged in a manhunt of the FBI’s most wanted man.
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But the famous photo almost didn’t get released, according to a new book written by Josh King titled Off Script. According to the Washington Examiner, King wrote that Souza knew he had a winner when he shot the photo that showed Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military and administration officials apparently watching attentively as live video feeds of the assault were broadcast directly to the situation room on May 2, 2011, the day bin Laden was killed in the raid, which involved a stealth helicopter insertion of two dozen Navy Seals.
The problem with the photo arose when it was realized a classified document was on the desk in front of Clinton, the details of which were also captured by the photo. Souza asked for the document to be declassified. When his request was denied, Souza was left with only one option, to pixelate the image to blur the classified document. The only problem with the decision to do so was Souza had never done that before. It was only after he had successfully pixelated the classified document that the photo was allowed to be released.
The New York Times reportedly rewarded Souza for his work by giving his photo and the accompanying story six columns on the front page. “They realized it was an important photograph,” Souza said.
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