Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Sorry, Wrong Caption

September 2, 1982
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The United Press International said, in a statement issued here yesterday that it had concluded, after an investigation touched off by severe criticism, that a war-injured Lebanese child had not lost his arms, as had been claimed in a caption and photographs circulated internationally on August I by UP International News pictures. Photographs of the allegedly armless child with the same caption, were also circulated by Associated Press.

The picture of the allegedly armless child was reportedly displayed on President Reagan’s desk as a symbol of suffering in Lebanon. The photo portrayed a nurse holding a baby girl swathed in bandages after both her arms had been blown off by an allegedly misdirected Israeli bomb.

The Israel medical corps tracked down the infant and the nurse. It was learned that the child was a boy, Eli Massau, four months old, and not a girl, who was discharged from the hospital a few days after the picture was taken. The Israeli government sent Reagan a picture of the boy with a letter saying that the child had suffered a fractured arm, and that Israeli doctors who located the infant found he had recovered from his burns and that his fracture was healing well.

H.L. Stevenson, UPI editor-in-chief, in admitting the error, attributed it to “the confusion at the time, at the hospital and in the city. He said the UPI correspondent in Beirut, after an investigation, stood by UPI’s report that the child had been injured in an air attack.

Fadi Mitri of UPI and two other news photographers took pictures of the child and the nurse at the French-run Hospital Dieu. Mitri, who wrote the caption, said his information came from neighborhood residents and hospital officials who had talked to the patients hurt in the attack on the apartment in which the Massau family lived.


On August 8, Israel issued to formal statement denouncing the photograph as “a gross distortion of facts and violation of basic ethics of journalism which caused Israel great damage in wide circles of public opinion.”

The “before” and “after” photographs were published today by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Post accompanied the two pictures with a substantial report on the UPI statement, admitting the-error, and describing the incident in detail. The Times merely carried a caption which included a reference to the fact that the UPI confirmed that its original caption was inaccurate and that “UPI regrets the error.”

Recommended from JTA