Ted Cruz with a Gun to His Head

So, this picture is going around:


And this one:


In both, Ted Cruz is giving a speech about gun rights in front of an illustration of a gun. Naturally, outrage is ensuing.

POLITICO (“AP photo shows a gun pointed at Ted Cruz’s head“):

In an Associated Press image that drew comment and criticism on Twitter on Sunday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is seen speaking with what appeared to be a gun aimed straight at him.

The photograph — taken by the AP’s Charlie Neibergall — actually captured a background poster, with a large semi-blurred image of a handgun pointed at Cruz’s forehead, straight between the eyes.

Cruz was appearing Saturday at CrossRoads Shooting Sports in Johnston, Iowa. During his speech, Cruz, an outspoken proponent of Second Amendment rights, encouraged residents to adopt what he called a Texan approach to guns by simply “hitting what you aim at.”

A day earlier, the Republican presidential candidate accused Democrats of using Wednesday’s church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, as an excuse “to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Conservative Twitter users said the image showed the AP’s bias against Republicans, while The Breitbart website wrote about the response the AP image would have drawn from the public had it been an anti-gun rally featuring a Democratic candidate: “How many think pieces about violent imagery and responsible reporting would we see?”


Of course, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is a Republican.

That puts him in proximity with guns and gun posters, as seen in this picture from Associated Press photog Charlie Neibergall, more often than Democrats.

Still, imagine a similar situation-a U.S. Senator campaigning for President-and instead of a pro-2nd Amendment event, it’s a pro-gun control event. Imagine this Senator is standing in front of a giant poster of a pistol-one meant to demonize the weapon rather than promote it.

Imagine that this same AP photographer, instead of shifting a foot to the left or the right, framed a picture with the Senator’s nose almost touching the barrel, as a closer crop makes clear.

Imagine that this photographer, even though he took a few shots with this silly setup, took many more without it. Imagine that his editor-unnamed and insulated from public backlash-chose not one but two but three of those photos to distribute to AP’s clients.

Imagine this scenario-and how would the world respond if the name on those photos read:

Bernie Sanders?

Hillary Clinton?

Even excluding 2016 candidates, what about:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)?

Gabrielle Giffords?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), again, is a Republican, and of course his feelings won’t get hurt. He’s a big boy.

But imagine the outcry were he a Democrat. How many think pieces about violent imagery and responsible reporting would we see? How many more if he were a woman?

Keep this in mind for the 2016 campaign. This is the playing field.

The AP explanation:

The AP responded with a statement late Sunday night.

“Presidential candidate Ted Cruz,” Paul Colford, vice president & director of media relations, said, “was shown in a series of 14 photos taken by an Associated Press photographer at a ‘Celebrate the 2nd Amendment’ event Saturday afternoon, held at a shooting range in Johnston, Iowa. Five of the photos published by AP included images of guns seen on a wall in the background so that it appeared a pistol was pointed at Sen. Cruz’s head.

“The images were not intended to portray Sen. Cruz in a negative light,” Colford said.


I know nothing about the photographer, his political leanings, or his sense of humor. But it strikes me as completely plausible that, in taking a picture of a man talking about guns with a giant poster of a gun behind him, capturing the gun pointed at his head was inadvertent rather than some sort of nefarious plot by the liberal media.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Media, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s also standard photographic framing.

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    To steal a line from another: Let’s PhotoShop in Obama or Hillary and see how that goes over.

  3. Franklin says:

    But imagine the outcry were he a Democrat.

    Or imagine the outcry were he a Republican. Oh, wait, I don’t have to imagine it – it’s happening right in the article.

  4. Ryan says:

    I’m a professional photographer, and this was neither inadvertent nor liberal bias; when you’re in this sort of situation, especially hemmed into a press pack, the only interesting photo to take is to juxtapose the speaker with an interesting part of the background. It’s his nature that he was spending time in front of giant pictures of guns.

  5. Ryan says:

    Also, the photographer may have been stuck in that perspective, and his only compositional choice would have been to have the gun in front or kind of sticking out of the back of his head. It’s only in the past 10 years that you see most of a pool shooters’ take thanks to the Internet; traditionally you can read more into whether publications keep printing this image for an unrelated Cruz story.

  6. Hurling Dervish says:

    @Ryan: sorry, Ryan. I accidentally down voted you when I meant to approve.

  7. rodney dill says:

    Future caption contest

  8. rodney dill says:

    I do remember the “Brat” from Bratislava framed above President Bush, and “Retire” from the word retirement above Cheney. So it’s not that uncommon a practice. I think I remember similar framing with Presidents Clinton and Obama, but I can’t put my finger on any examples.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Wait, Ted Cruz loves guns. LOVES ’em. Worships ’em.

    Why on earth would he or any conservative be bothered? Guns! Yay! Right?

  10. michael reynolds says:


    It’s remarkable how often the mechanics of a given job are mistaken for intent. As a writer I get something similar, writing teachers and critics chin-stroking over why I did this or that, when the answer is most often a mechanical, technical one: I need that POV to set up a scene, or I had too much dense text on the page, or the chapter was running long.

    Just so you know: no one ever accepts the mechanics-of-the-job answer. It’s a suspicious world.

  11. John Peabody says:

    Lots of unneeded outrage.

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: You’re reminding me of the time that one of those eager-beaver Ph.D. candidates was doing her thesis on an analysis of Mary McCarthy’s novels, and had written a long involved analysis on McCarthy’s planned psychology of using a basket of PINK flowers in a certain scene. Many years later, said Ph.D. candidate (now with Ph.D.) managed to meet McCarthy and ask her whether her theory was right. McCarthy’s answer? “I thought pink was a nice color.”

  13. rodney dill says:

    @John Peabody: Yes, In general guns printed with 2D printers are really, really safe. Regardless of where they point.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    We invented an alien word in an early Animorphs book. It was a rearranging of the letters in the word “Hilton.” Because I lived next door to a Hilton and that’s what I was looking at. You’d be amazed how many characters’ first names are taken from the authors of whatever book I happened to have on my shelf.

    And then when you are up to something cute no one gets it. I had a group in Gone that were named in ways evoking (I thought) Hitler’s inner circle. Exactly zero people got that, or the fact that three prominent geographical features happened to be named Achatz, Trotter and Tramonto, after three great Chicago chefs.

    Pearls before swine, Grumpy, pearls before swine.

  15. Modulo Myself says:

    @michael reynolds: @grumpy realist:

    Codes are everywhere in life and they are meant to be look arbitrary. Paranoid people are quite right to suspect that there are things out there that they’re missing. I’ve always liked how Umberto Eco was able to both mock this in his novels and in other work discuss the layers of meaning within The Divine Comedy or Ulysses.

  16. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael, the teachers and critics wouldn’t have a thing to do if they couldn’t find deep and nearly impenetrable meaning in the placement of a comma or the choice of one word over another.

  17. Modulo Myself says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Also, I had to check to make sure, but it was Mary McCarthy who first ID’d V. Botkin as the author of Nabokov’s Pale Fire rather than the Charles Kinbote. Nabokov was very pleased to have this missed by virtually everybody who read the book.

  18. A picture in my brother’s high school year book of his head blocking part of a “CLASS OF 1992” display in the background display has resulted in 23 years of ribbing about him winning the school’s asshole of the year contest.

  19. Boyd says:

    As Ryan indicated, I have little doubt the photographer intentionally framed the shots the way he did. He’s a photojournalist, fer cryin’ out loud! Paying attention to the background is high on the list of things to do when framing your shot.

    On the other hand, without conducting a lot of research into Mr Neibergall’s work, I have no idea where he stands on the political spectrum, nor his intent when framing those shots, nor do I care much. I can’t imagine being in that situation as a photographer and not taking a shot like that.

    Tempest, I think we found you a teapot.

  20. rodney dill says:

    AP appears to have broken/removed some of the links you used.

  21. M. Bouffant says:

    @rodney dill: Here is some stuff about the “Obama Halo”.

    There is absolutely nothing over which these people won’t bunch their panties.

  22. Jeremy says:

    @michael reynolds: Reminds me of this very handy Venn diagram:


  23. david says:

    Ted Cruz speaks at gun club event in gun club conference room.
    Conservatives are shocked to learn that gun club rooms are lined with multiple posters of guns.

    Film at 11.

  24. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Most of Charlie Neibergall´s work for AP is sports coverage. According to the AP website, he covered a Formula Indy racing in Newton, Iowa, last week, forty miles from where Ted Cruz spoke. Since he was there, he probably went to take pictures of the candidates.

    I guess that he probably only had a ultrazoom lense(That´s what you use to cover sports) in a very small room. But, that´s only a guess from a very mediocre amateur photographer. Ryan is rightly: very few people would care for these photos if it weren´t for the internet.

  25. Ted Cruz and AP, Sarah Palin and the left media. Different strokes for different folks. A Limerick.

    Ted Cruz with a gun to his head

    AP shows its hate, wants him dead.

    Sarah Palin was framed

    for a cross-hair ad shamed

    A blood libel blame-shift instead.

  26. Grumpy Realist says:

    @CSK: Stanislaw Lem wrote a very funny satire on the “innermost meaning” crowd involving the death of a horse-thief in the Wild West and Gigamesh. The line that stuck in my head was “the commas in Chapter 8 provide a street map of Rome”.

  27. michael reynolds says:


    I’ve seen that. I think the people who analyze writing visualize writers living in a sort of abstract haze of symbology. Possibly true for some writers. But most of us are just trying to describe the pictures we make up in our heads. When the curtains are blue it’s because blue is the writers favorite color, or because he had a bunch of things be green and now he feels he’d better use a different color.

  28. al-Ameda says:

    Any professional photographer with that (Ted and gun) photo opportunity? You bet they’d take that picture, and Freud would be proud of it too. And it’s not the least bit controversial – Ted, like millions of Americans, loves, loves, loves guns.

  29. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @al-Ameda: Frankly, I imagine that if the photographer had a wider lense he would have taken a different photo. On the other hand, c´mon, Neilbergall took beautiful pictures of Republican candidates.