The Digital Journalist
A Surprise From Long Ago and Far Away

by Dirck Halstead

Washington - May 21, 2005) -- Every year, top photojournalists who cover the President of The United States gather for the White House News Photographers' Association's black-tie dinner in the nation's capital.

Although the star at the dinner was President George W. Bush, who cracked jokes at his own expense that had the photographers rolling in the aisle, especially when he showed a video of Vice President Dick Cheney buzzing around the country on a Segway scooter, the emotional highlight of the evening came when it was time to honor former U.S. News & World Report Chief Photographer (and Digital Journalist "Camera Corner" editor) Chick Harrity with the WHNPA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Photo by Chick Harrity
Although Chick is best known for his 33 years of covering the White House for The Associated Press and U.S. News, his favorite photograph was a picture he made in 1973 during the Vietnam War, when he was with AP, showing a street child sleeping in a cardboard box on a Saigon street with her brother by her side.

After publication in newspapers around the world, the picture caused a ground swell of support for Vietnamese orphans. Thousands of Vietnamese children were adopted into American homes. The little girl that Harrity had photographed was named Nhanny and she was adopted by Evelyn Heil of Springfield, Ohio, after Heil's long crusade to find her and bring her to the United States.

© Reuters / Photo by Chip Somodevilla
As he walked to the stage to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, the spotlight swung to pick out a woman also making her way to the podium. It was Nhanny.

"It was an incredible moment," said Harrity. "I had been to a rehearsal for the presentation that afternoon and there was no mention of her. After I shook hands with the president, I noticed that the other people were not moving into their rehearsed positions. Then I heard WHNPA President Susan Walsh tell the president, "Don't move, stay here!" Since you usually don't talk to the president like that I figured something was happening and then Nhanny appeared."

"That a picture became instrumental in the idea of adopting these children was overwhelming," Harrity added.

According to people who attended the dinner, there wasn't a dry eye in the house as Chick and Nhanny embraced.

"It was one of those drop-dead moments," said Harrity. "It brought home the real aspect of what we do. It can change lives. It certainly changed her life. We can affect the world."

© Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist