American Pie 12.12.03

Although it gave him a much-needed ratings boost, President Bush’s secret trip to Baghdad is still irking some of the White House press corps. First, they feel room should have been made on Air Force One for more journalists. Second, some feel the elaborate secrecy suggests the White House doesn’t really trust the correspondents assigned to covering the President. Those not invited on the trip complain they were made to appear fools to their news desks by continuing to file reports on how Bush was spending Thanksgiving at his ranch. The trip set a bad precedent, including coercing the reporters who flew with Bush into lying to their editors, maintains Tom Rosenthal, director of an organisation here that seeks to promote excellence in journalism. Incidentally, the turkey Bush was seen carrying in the troops’ mess tent in Baghdad Airport was a display one – meant to be looked at, not eaten. It looked so perfect it could have come from the pages of a food magazine. No wonder Bush grabbed it as he walked by. It made a great picture.

Although Bush and the turkey is unlikely to be voted best picture of the war, there is a debate here over which are the most memorable pictures ever taken by battlefield photographers. Top of the list, it’s been suggested, is the picture of triumphant US Marines raising the US flag on Iwo Jima. Then there are three from Vietnam: the police chief publicly shooting a Vietcong prisoner in the head, the naked girl running down a road after her village had been napalmed, and the last helicopter lifting off from the roof of the US embassy as Saigon fell. Two contenders in recent weeks have been pictures of US soldiers lying dead in the street in Iraq. On a more pleasant note, one other nomination was for the often-published picture of a US sailor enthusiastically kissing a nurse in Times Square on VJ Day.

Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s New York townhouse is up for sale. The asking price: $29m (£17m). Back in 1975, when his magazine was riding high, Guccione paid $650,000 for the limestone fronted house. Said to be the largest private residence for sale in the city, it is close to Central Park and has 30 rooms, including a ballroom and an indoor swimming pool lit by chandeliers. The sale is a reflection of the financial problems the former London adsalesman has been experiencing. It’s several months since an issue of Penthouse was seen on the news-stands. By comparison, his biggest rival Hugh Hefner is doing well. His publishing company, now being run by his daughter Christie, is making more money than ever – attributed by some to its recent shift from sexy pictures to real porn in the form of X-rated movies and videotapes. To which Christie, with a shrug, says: “It’s all entertainment.”

Former Daily Express photographer Harry Benson has another new book out about the Beatles called Once There Was a Way. It’s a collection of pictures of the Fab Four he took in the Sixties and Seventies, including the famous pillow fight in their hotel room in Paris and the “knock-out” picture he took when he got them together with Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in a boxing ring in Miami. At the time the Beatles didn’t like the picture and for a while wouldn’t talk to Benson. Although the Beatles were the bedrock of his US photographic career, Benson says in his book that it was originally an assignment from the Express he didn’t want – and didn’t seek.

By Jeffrey Blyth

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