The French news agency Agence France-Presse, often referred to as "AFP," says its decision to pull a photo making French President Francois Hollande look like the "village idiot" was "clearly an error," after the order made the photo get more publicity than ever.
Drawing international attention, the photo has spawned caption contests and unflattering descriptions. The U.K. Telegraph, for instance, said it made the French president look like a "gormless overachiever." The current winner of one caption contest is, "When I'm happy I vomit."
The image, taken on Tuesday as Hollande visited students heading back to school in Denain, was posted with the other pictures from the day on the AFP's website for download. AFP said the photo was quickly removed with a "mandatory kill" order on the image, meaning it was not to be reproduced.
"Immediately, AFP was accused of censorship and of having tried to suppress the photo on the direct order of the presidential office. This was not the case (otherwise we would not be republishing the image here.)," AFP global news director Philippe Massonnet wrote in an explanation. "Having said that, with the benefit of hindsight we see that the decision to retract the photo was clearly an error."
Massonnet said the decision was purely editorial, and in keeping with their policy not to "transmit images that gratuitously ridicule people."
"We never publish something purely for its shock value or to mock someone," he wrote. "Our photographers often catch public figures – at international conferences or waiting to give a speech, for instance – in unflattering but entirely human poses, such as with a finger in a nostril."
Whatever the case, AFP acknowledges, the decision to yank an unflattering photo of the French president made an image that likely would have gone "largely unnoticed" into an international joke.
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