Paul Greenberg

Something there is in a picture that makes things realer than real. Result: Congress was shocked -- shocked! -- to find all this struff going on at ACORN. It may even get around to doing what it should have done long ago: cutting off this outfit's water. That is, its federal funding. The videos made all the difference.

The same thing happened to the Black Panthers. They might have acted like thugs when they did their brutish part for Barack Obama's presidential hopes, but their threats could have been safely ignored if some of them hadn't been filmed intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling station -- complete with racist insults, militia-like garb, and twirling billy clubs. That video couldn't be ignored, hard as this admnistration's Justice Department has tried.

No doubt both ACORN and the Black Panthers will take away a profound moral lesson from this painful experience. Namely, don't let yourself be filmed doing the dirty work.

I begin to better understand why, during the bad old days in these Southern latitudes, reporters might or might not be threatened by seggish mobs, but it was the photographers who got smashed -- along with their cameras. Their pictures might make all the difference; the rest of us had only words to rely on.

Back in the day, a news photographer had to be quick of thought and tongue to turn aside a mob. Bobby Jones of the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, who was in Little Rock to cover the Central High Crisis of 1957, used to talk about the time he was cornered by a bunch of roughnecks.

Bobby managed to turn aside their fury by explaining that he was a good ol' boy himself -- just up from Pine Bluff. He wasn't with one of those wicked Little Rock dailies. Or, heaven forbid, the hated national (read damnyankee) press. His accent probably helped. A fellow's got to think quick to save both his pictures and his hide.

Even today, the historic scenes folks remember about the Crisis of '57 tend to be those captured on film by cameramen like Will Counts and Larry Obsitnik. Their iconic images of that time will last as long as people have eyes.

Their successors keep hunting for the same kind of riveting shots. The news photographer's equipment may have changed over the years, but not the art. Keep snappin', gang. You're the ones, often as not, who make the difference -- and may pay the price.

From those of us with just a reporter's notebook and our vocabularies for equipment, our deepest respects. We only tell the story, you show it.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.