The Associated Press dropped a rare plot twist into a story of how the facts that emerge in the first hours after breaking news are so often wrong by undoing its retraction of a photo that, it turns out, was related to the Navy Yard shootings on Monday after all. One of the first photos from the area after the shootings, its authenticity came under scrutiny almost as soon as the image, showing a man on the ground surrounded by people, began to go viral. The AP, after quickly "authenticating" the photo late Monday morning, "eliminated" it from its archive hours later. But as of Thursday, that image is back in circulation, along with an additional image depicting the same scene, after one of the agency's reporters tracked down the story behind the photograph, which is very much connected to Monday's tragedy.
The story of the photo in question, told in full by the AP's Matt Apuzzo, reveals that the man on the sidewalk was Vishnu Pandit, one of the 12 victims of the attack. Apuzzo reconstructed the timeline leading up to the image above, starting in the office where Pandit was shot, following to how his colleagues, trying to get him help, ended up bringing him to a sidewalk blocks away from the scene of the attack:
They continued downstairs and escaped through a side door, where she said they found a security guard in an unmarked car.
A gunman was on the loose and the security guard was worried about leaving his post. Still, he took Lavern and Pandit into the car and raced off. They made it off the grounds of the Navy Yard and to a street corner a few blocks away. The security guard needed to get back to his post and asked police who were there to get an ambulance immediately.
Lavern eased her friend to the pavement. His pulse was gone.
Later, the story weaves in the initial questions of authenticity with the story of how James Birdsall, who was nearby and assumed someone had a heart attack when he saw Pandit, tried to save his life:
But Birdsall saw the gunshot wound to Pandit's head. He attached the defibrillator's two pads to the man's chest. The machine said not to administer a shock, Lavern said. So she continued giving CPR. Others came to help and Lavern kept talking to her friend. Birdsall could tell that from the way she kept saying his name that she knew him well.
Within two minutes of being dispatched, an ambulance arrived. Lavern asked to go to the hospital with him but a detective told her she needed to give a police report instead. She removed Pandit's badge and gave it to rescue workers so they would know who he was.
The Associated Press had distributed two photos Andres took on Monday but hours later withdrew the photos until it could be verified they were related to the Navy Yard shootings. The AP reissued the photos along with this story.
The full story, both sad and remarkable, is worth a read in its entirety.
Based on a timeline provided by the AP's spokesman, The Atlantic Wire was among the outlets reporting on why the AP changed their mind on the photo the first time. The photos of Pandit had been taken by congressional staffer Don Andres and distributed initially in a tweet from Tim Hogan, a spokesperson for Rep. Steven Horsford. In an email on Tuesday, the news agency's spokesman Paul Colford told the Atlantic Wire that the AP had concluded that the photo was unrelated to the shooting:
In the end, the photos were “eliminated” by AP at 5:53 p.m. because by that time the official record of casualties from the shooting made clear that the episode shown in the images was unrelated to the violence at the Navy Yard. We should have vetted the circumstance shown in these photos more carefully.
The elimination notice sent out by the AP was more cautious, telling subscribers, "Associated Press has been unable to confirm that the incident shown in this picture is directly connected with the shootings at the Naval Yard in Washington." Until today.
We asked Colford this evening if his previous statement had been a misstatement or this was a reversal, and he emailed back, "We had been unable as of the time of our exchange to tie the two photos conclusively to the Navy Yard shootings, but AP reporting continued through the week, identifying players in the drama, and resulted in this update."