Is it accurate for a caption to state that someone "points his weapon towards forces" when the weapon isn't able to be fired?
This March 23, 2011 Associated Press photo (see above) by Anja Niedringhaus pictures a man holding a weapon. The photo caption reads:
"A Libyan rebel points his weapon towards forces of Moammar Gadhafi, after mortars were fired on the frontline near Zwitina, the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya."
But, reader Dr. Florian Jentsch e-mailed StinkyJournalism to let us know that there are problems with the caption. Jentsch passed on diagrams of a similar weapon, which indicates that not only is the man pictured holding the weapon upside down, but the weapon is missing a grip stock signal unit with the trigger, so the weapon can't even be fired.
StinkyJournalism spoke with the Federation of American Scientists' Matt Schroeder to learn more about the weapon pictured. Schroeder explained that the weapon in the AP photo is an SA7 MANPADS weapon. It has a battery unit, but no grip stock. As such, the weapon can't be fired as is.
Schroeder also confirmed that the man pictured is holding the weapon upside down and added that "these weapons are only used against air targets."
The New York Times features a weapon in a similar condition of being unfireable, which it explains is just "the launch tube." "Put another way, as equipped, this rebel and his weapon are roughly as dangerous to a passing Boeing or Airbus as a man standing on the road with a baseball bat," the New York Times described.
We wrote to the Associated Press for an explanation for the difference between the photo and the caption, given the information provided by Dr. Jentsch. Jentsch wrote to the Associated Press more than a month ago without any response. We also asked the AP if it would correct its caption since it suggests the "Libyan rebel" is preparing to fire the pictured weapon, and yet the weapon is unable to be fired.
The Associated Press's manager of media relations, Jack Stokes, responded to our inquiry. He stated: "The information contained in the AP photo caption is very basic and accurately describes the moment – it says the Libyan rebel is pointing his weapon."
StinkyJournalism can't see the target at which the man pictured is pointing the weapon. But, the caption suggests the man may use that weapon, which, as the Federation of American Scientists explained, isn't possible in the weapon's pictured state. Even if the man pictured was pointing his weapon at forces, why? The weapon isn't for ground use, but for shooting missiles into the air.
StinkyJournalism wonders if this is evidence that the photo is staged: Why else would a "rebel" hold a weapon upside down toward forces, if the weapon is not only unfire-able but for air targets? We have written to the AP's Stokes to ask about this. We are also asking how the AP knows that the man pictured is a rebel. We will update with any response.
What do you think? Is this caption misleading?
StinkyJournalism has also written to the Arms Control Association for more information and will update with any response.