An editorial in today’s Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star lauds a recent court decision to remove a portrait of Confederate cavalry commander Jeb Stuart from the Patrick County courtroom.
Accompanying the editorial online was a file photo of ECW’s own Rob Orrison leaning against a marble bust of Jeb Stuart. Rob is identified by name in the photo’s caption.
Problem is: Rob doesn’t support the removal of the painting from the courthouse.
“I have no idea why the Free Lance-Star used my photograph for this article,” Rob wrote on the newspaper’s website, reacting to the editorial. “Sad to see my image attached to an editorial piece that I do not agree with.”
For the record, Rob told me “I don’t agree with removing ANY historic figures from courthouses or court lawns, etc. It’s not a Confederate issue. For me, it’s a historic interpretation issue. I wouldn’t support the removal of any historic image or statue from a public space.” He told the Free Lance-Star as much, too.
The photo of Rob that the paper used was taken in April of last year by the Associated Press for a story they did on Rob’s many Civil War adventures during the sesquicentennial. In the photo, Rob poses by a bust of Stuart that’s on display in the Old House chambers in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.
But just because the image has Jeb Stuart in it doesn’t mean it’s fitting for the editorial, Rob contends. “Surely the Ed Board could have found an image of JEB Stuart for their opinion piece,” he wrote on the paper’s website.
And, indeed, by late morning, the paper did find a photo of Stuart, swapping it in in place of Rob’s photo, which it removed. No photo accompanied the editorial in the paper’s print edition.
Legally, the use of the photo was perfectly okay. It was taken in a public place for use in public education (news), but beyond that, Rob even consented to the photo when it was taken. The paper has every right to pull the photo from its archives and run it again.
But are there ethical questions here? For instance, did the paper create (intentionally or not) an inappropriate context for the photo? Did the use of Rob’s name and image imply his agreement with the editorial?
Or maybe it was something else entirely—maybe a small, kind, quiet gesture from someone at the paper who knew Rob and used his photo because they thought they were actually doing something nice for him (a lot of people find that to be a really cool thrill, after all).
I am interested in what our readers have to say: Do you think the Free Lance-Star‘s use of the photo was appropriate? Why/why not?