The tears, grief and tension of President Donald Trump’s listening session with shooting victims and families after the Florida high school massacre were profound. Washington photographer Carolyn Kaster’s job was to capture the compelling event in images. That’s no easy task at the White House, where events are tightly managed and photographers’ movements are highly restricted.
But Kaster, working with photo editor Jon Elswick, overcame these obstacles and delivered an image of a hand-written note held by the president that quickly went viral and became one of the most talked-about stories of the day. The image wins Kaster and Elswick the Beat of the Week.
About 50 minutes into the event, as the students and family members talked about their experiences and loss, Kaster could see Trump holding a note card with large writing. The president fingered it for about 15 seconds before putting it back into his pocket. Kaster first took tight images of the card in his hands, then looser ones of him holding the card. She paused, checked the focus of one of the looser images, and sent it to Elswick, directly from her camera.
At the time, she couldn’t read what was on the card, but knew it was worth getting in front of an editor. Elswick also had seen the note as he monitored the live video feed of the event. When Kaster’s image popped up on his screen, he could clearly read the words on the card. It was a list of notes provided to President Trump by staff to guide his conversation with grieving students and family. The last note read “I hear you.”
At the White House, Kaster couldn’t read what was on the card, but knew it was worth getting in front of an editor. Elswick had also seen the notes as he monitored the live video feed.
Elswick quickly cropped the image more tightly, focusing in on just the president’s hands and the note. He then sent it to AP’s photo customers around the world and flagged it to the attention of White House editor Nancy Benac, who incorporated the details into the running text story. Lou Kesten, the WDC desk supervisor, also got the image, and tweeted it from the AP Politics Twitter account.
Before the president’s listening session had even ended, the tweet was going viral.
As of Monday, the tweet had about 19,000 retweets and 28,000 likes. Beyond the wide attention Kaster's photo got on social media, it was displayed across multiple television networks and spurred numerous stories in other outlets about Trump's empathy. Kaster did a Q&A for AP CorpComm about how she got the photo, which also got wide attention on social media and in Washington tip sheets. AP competitors later offered similar images, but AP’s was first and, thanks to Kaster’s positioning directly across from the president at the event, she had a straight-on angle that made her image the easiest to read.
For sharp eyes, quick thinking and professional skill in delivering the most memorable image of the president’s meeting, Kaster and Elswick will share this week’s $500 prize.