John Kerry
John Kerry (Reuters)

The extremes that an aggressive news organization will undertake to get a picture of Secretary of State John Kerry doing something in the water while big news is happening on another continent! Once the Boston Herald got word that John Kerry was kicking around in Nantucket on the eve of the Fourth of July holiday, it arranged to transport freelance photojournalist Ryan Hutton from Boston to Nantucket.

On Thursday morning in Nantucket, Hutton observed weather that he deemed unsuitable for yachting, thus making a shot of Kerry on his wondrous “Isabel” yacht a bit unlikely. As the weather cleared, however, the prospect for water-borne Independence Day activities brightened. So Hutton hopped aboard a boat that does tours of the harbor area. It was a “shot in the dark,” according to Boston Herald Associate Photo Editor Arthur Pollock. Once he was out in the water, Hutton “didn’t have to wait long for [Kerry] to come paddling out in his little kayak,” says Pollock.

Indeed, Hutton’s shots of Kerry in a red kayak preparing to mount a white boat — not his glorious yacht — have the look of the classic ambush photograph. In two key shots on the Boston Herald site, the secretary of state appears distracted from his boating by Hutton’s presence; his eyes seem locked on the camera in front of him.

Hutton had company in the recreational photography department. Mosheh Oinounou of CBS News was on pretty much the same beat and on Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted this message and photo:

In most years, a high-ranking U.S. government official hanging out on a nice boat in advance of Fourth of July weekend is a dog-bites-man affair hardly worthy of a photo stakeout. This year is different, however, given that preparations for our Independence Day happened to coincide with a massive upheaval in which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ended up out of office. Suddenly the proximity of the secretary of state to Topsiders and hulls and windsurfing boards took on a public-interest dimension.

State Department handlers helped to focus attention on Kerry’s activities in Nantucket. Following the CBS News report, State denied that he was on the yacht, only to backtrack on that denial today. From spokeswoman Jen Psaki: “While he was briefly on his boat on Wednesday, Secretary Kerry worked around the clock all day, including participating in the president’s meeting with his National Security Council and calls with Norwegian Foreign Minister Eade, Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Egyptian Constitution Party President ElBaradei and five calls to Ambassador Patterson on that day alone.” Telecommuting meets foreign policy, in other words.

Pollock says there are two ways of looking at the Kerry-in-Nantucket situation: On the one hand, you can give the guy a break — everyone deserves a vacation and a bit of privacy. On the other hand, Egypt roils while Kerry paddles. “Appearances are everything in this business,” says Pollock, who says the Herald “always enjoys trying to get a good picture of John Kerry.”

Prosecuting a story of this sort entails a dose of hypocrisy for journalists, who routinely take advantage of modern technology to do their jobs while stationed at the beach, in the mountains or other leisure spots. Few of them, however, get to relieve the stress of a working vacation with the assistance of a “76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage.” And none of them are helming U.S. policy toward a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.