On August 14 this blog noted the passing of Joe O’Donnell, a photographer from Nashville credited with taking one of the most enduring photographs of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s coffin, as well as some of the first photos after the nuclear bombings of Japan. The post relied exclusively on a New York Times obituary that now appears to be highly dubious. Subsequent reporting by Marianne Fulton at the Digital Journalist and former UPI press photographers has turned up convincing evidence that O’Donnell may have appropriated photos by others and benefited from their sale.
That appears to be the case with the John John photo, which, as several former UPI staffers attest, was actually taken by Stanley Stearns. After a long and careful analysis of photos O’Donnell claimed to have taken mixed with testimony from Stearns and other former UPI staffers, Fulton concludes:
By relying exclusively on the single New York Times piece, this blog was one of the ones to get it wrong.
As for Fulton’s piece, it goes a long way towards setting the record straight, and this is indeed a bizarre story. But now yet another article sheds even more light on the subject. Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell contacted O’Donnell’s son, J. Tyge O’Donnell, who disputes some of the accusations in Fulton’s piece while explaining that his father’s Alzheimer’s may have contributed to his confusion over which photos were his. So when Fulton states flatly that “This was not a mistake of memory; it was intentional,” has she herself gone too far?