John Stemberger is chairman of the board of Trail Life USA, a scouting organization that doesn’t allow participation from openly gay boys. The Associated Press’s (AP) Nomaan Merchant recently completed an in-depth story about this alternative to the Boy Scouts, paired with this photo. When Stemberger’s kids saw the picture, they said, “Oh gosh, that’s Hitler’s sign, daddy,” Stemberger told the Erik Wemple Blog today.
That’s indeed the way it looks.
Over the past few days, however, Stemberger has been busy explaining that looks can deceive. The children in the photo, he says, were performing a ritual in which they raise their hands high in the air and gradually lower them to their sides as they sing “Taps.” One problem: A still photograph doesn’t capture the movement. “The photographer caught the boys right at the exact angle where their hands were moving down and it just looks bad,” says Stemberger.
Bad enough that Trail Life has been snowed under with e-mails and a pair of threats that Stemberger, who’s based in Florida, has deemed scary enough that he’s going to report them to local and federal authorities. “Both talk about mass murders,” says Stemberger.
When asked just how he links the reaction to the photo itself, Stemberger responds that he has done more than 400 interviews about the recently launched Trail Life USA. “We’ve never had this kind of reaction, never had this vitriolic, vile reaction,” says Stemberger.
The AP’s side of this story focuses on the caption. According to AP spokesman Paul Colford, the caption that originally shipped with the photo mentioned that the photographed children were citing the organization’s “creed,” yielding an unsavory impression about just what was going on in Trail Life USA. Here’s the AP
disclosure caption correction on the matter:
CORRECTS BOYS ARE SINGING “TAPS,” NOT RECITING ORGANIZATION’S CREED – In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members move their arms as they sing “Taps” in a circle during a meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Stemberger told the Erik Wemple Blog that he’d asked the AP to remove the photo from its lineup, given the impression it created, whatever the accuracy of the caption.
In pursuing the story, the Erik Wemple Blog asked AP a simple question, along those lines: Why publish what is such an explosive photo, even if the caption explains it properly?
Just a few minutes ago, the AP responded: “The story would have been better served without this particular photo, which was too easily misread. It will be removed from our archives.”