Written by Justin Burnell
Tuesday, 18 March 2008 07:50
Their group sits in the same place every morning. The large, yellow, roundtable hosts anywhere from four to seven Mid-City professionals and retirees, depending on the day.
As they approach the counter, I begin to get their coffee and food before they can ask. The track reporter, Bob, wants a small medium roast in a mug; after the ponies he will come back and order a latte. The red-haired social worker orders medium in a mug. “I don’t mind a mug,” she says, “like some of my friends.”
Eliot, a photographer for the Times-Picayune, orders the same mug of medium as the others, and a bran muffin. He makes small talk, laughs a bit. Normal counter fare. He wears a light denim jacket with a picture of a pug at a diner: “Got Coffee?” it says.
A few weeks ago, Eliot walked up to the counter smiling. He placed his newspaper down flat; on the cover was a picture of Mayor C.Ray Nagin pointing an M-4 assault rifle at Police Chief Warren Riley. Both men stood with big laughing smiles and an air of pride.
Eliot said it was his photo, well, it wasn’t exactly his photo, but he took a picture like it. It was his picture that inspired his editor to print the video still on the front page. Normally soft spoken, Eliot smiled, talking about C.Ray and Riley at the press conference. He described them as having fun, obviously pleased with the new weapons and the safety they implied.
I asked if he thought the picture might be overly provocative. He laughed a bit, and implied that maybe the Mayor deserved it. “Either way,” I said, “it makes a point.” He agreed, grinned and walked back to the roundtable.
I saw him a few days later. The day after the Times-Picayune published its retraction . Two days after NOLA.com was so proud of the photo the site let its readers publish their own captions.
Eliot was more reserved. I asked him if he was ok. He said he thought he was fine now, but it had been a rough couple of days. It seemed he didn’t want to talk much about the fallout. He quietly shuffled away, leaving his friend standing at the counter.
His friend, a retired accountant from California and frequent member of Eliot’s group, said “I think he was scared over nothing. He was nervous though. It was just a lowest guy on the totem pole thing.”
"How hot did it get?" I asked. The friend said he didn’t think anyone was ever in any real danger of getting fired, and as the day went on Eliot realized that. When he got to work the morning after the photo ran, his editor said if anyone gets fired Eliot would be the first. “But it looks like it’s all going to blow over,” he said. He paused and moved toward the door. He turned back and said, "After all, our first reaction was, ‘Doesn’t everyone hate Nagin anyway?’"
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