Washington Post defends publishing odd Occupy Oakland photo featuring cop petting kitten

News outlets and demonstrators alike chronicled the violence that erupted between police and Occupy Wall Street protesters in Oakland on Tuesday night. As a result, news consumers saw plenty of dramatic, teargas-filled images and video beamed, streamed and broadcast across virtually all media platforms.

And that's why many readers were puzzled by the Washington Post's selection of a photo showing an Oakland police officer petting a kitten to illustrate a story on the protests. The photo, shot by the Associated Press' Ben Margot, ran in Wednesday's print edition on page A3 above a story entitled, "Protesters Wearing Out Their Welcome Nationwide." The AP identified the Oakland police member as "Officer Ruten."

"It's amazing that Oakland PD managed to disperse the Occupy Oakland crowd solely by petting kittens," ThinkProgress.com's Matt Yglesias wrote on Twitter.

"Not teargassing a soul!" wrote Washington City Paper's Shani Hilton in her own Twitter account. Hilton was one of the first commentators to notice the paper's unusual image choice, tweeted.

Carol McKay, the Post's photo editor, later explained her rationale:

When I was looking at the Tuesday wire service photographs from the Oakland City Hall grounds, the violent protest images were not in the mix because that confrontation had not yet occurred. The late-night, violent protest was in response to the Tuesday eviction by the Oakland police.

Even though the story, written later in the evening, included information about the arrests and tear gas, no news images had moved by our production deadline, probably because Oakland is on Pacific time--a three-hour difference.

The photograph was chosen because it was a visual "moment" in time showing a police officer doing something interesting--not just walking through tents and trash. The wire service images that moved overnight and this morning offer a much different look at last night's protest.

It's worth noting that the Post's online coverage of the Oakland protests includes images and videos that show violence between protesters and police--not just cop-friendly kittens.

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