Volume 20, Number 48 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 13 - 19, 2011
9/11 ad pulled after firefighter protests
BY Aline Reynolds
An ad campaign meant to inform individuals of their compensation rights for 9/11-related illnesses abruptly ended after insulting the New York City firefighter whose photo was featured in the announcement.
Firefighter Robert Keiley, who joined the F.D.N.Y. in 2004, was portrayed in the print ad as a 9/11 first responder under the headline “I Was There,” referring to 9/11 and featuring Keiley holding up a picture of Ground Zero.
Keiley, who works out of Flatbush, Brooklyn and does modeling in his spare time, found the ad to be offensive, alleging that it misrepresents him and is a wrongful attempt to profit from the tragic events of 9/11.
Keiley posed for the photo a year ago, thinking it would be used in a fire prevention ad.
“How dare they defame an F.D.N.Y. member and violate well-established New York State law for their own monetary gain?” said Keiley’s attorney, Keith Sullivan. The State law Sullivan was referring to deems it illegal for ad companies to modify stock photographs such that their political, social or emotional meanings or messages are changed.
The photo may be used for any purpose except for defamatory or pornographic use, according to the release form Keiley signed authorizing the image’s distribution. “For an F.D.N.Y. member to claim he was at 9/11 and seeking [compensation] when he did not become a fireman until 2004 is defamatory in and of itself,” said Sullivan.
The F.D.N.Y. declined to comment on the ad.
Bill Groner, a senior partner at Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern, the law firm that sponsored the ad, contended that the release form indeed allows ad companies to make illustrative adjustments to the image. According to the form, the model must agree to the terms that “the images may be combined with other images, text and graphics, and cropped, altered or modified.”
“This means you can crop, Photoshop, do anything you want with it – anybody can who bought the rights [to the photo],” said Groner.
The ad, he noted, also included a written disclaimer saying the firefighter is an actor.
Nevertheless, the firm decided to halt the ad campaign because of the negative reaction it received from Keiley, his fellow firefighters and some 9/11 families.
“These are my clients — they’re people I have enormous passion for,” said Groner. “The last thing I ever wanted to do is upset them.”
After pulling the ad, the law firm released a written statement, apologizing for spurring confusion and angst within the 9/11 community.
“To the extent that this ad caused him, or any other World Trade Center first responder, to be upset, we certainly regret that,” said Groner’s colleague, senior partner Marc Bern, in a statement.
Barker/DZP, the agency hired to lead the ad campaign, said it withdrew from the assignment “out of respect for all parties involved.”
“Even though it was unintentional, and even though we had obtained all necessary licenses and releases and rights… the fact is that firefighter Keiley was understandably hurt and embarrassed by the ad,” said John Barker, president of Barker/DZP.
The purpose of the campaign, Groner and Barker independently explained, was to inform the roughly 40,000 injured and sick 9/11 first responders of their compensation rights, and to let them know that Worby Groner Edelman & Napoli Bern is available to represent them.
Barker said the agency was not aware of Keiley’s identity when choosing the photo, since Veer Photography, its original owner, does not provide biographical information of the models.
“There was no way of knowing that the model was actually a firefighter of the [FDNY],” said Barker. “It was simply an incredibly improbable coincidence with terrible results from Mr. Keiley, my agency, and our client.”
“It’s the craziest thing in the world. If it weren’t for the bizarre coincidence that he was a firefighter, this would have never come up,” echoed Groner. Keiley might have responded virulently to the ad, he said, because he was embarrassed about revealing his modeling work.
The ad was published in a commemorative booklet distributed at a NYC police and firefighter benefit gala two weeks ago, and in the March 28 edition of the New York Post. The same day, Barker/DZP released a statement that described the agency’s good intentions and its abidance to the law.
“We sincerely apologize to Firefighter Keiley, as well as the New York City Fire Department, and the brave firefighters who fearlessly served their city and gave their lives on 9/11,” the statement read. “While our mistake was entirely inadvertent, we understand why the ad has caused hurt, we regret its use, and we accept responsibility.”
Barker, a New Yorker himself, started his own company in Tribeca shortly after 9/11 to “help in my own small way to demonstrate the resiliency of America.”
“I know what heroes firefighters and all first responders are,” he said, “and we would never knowingly cast any of them in a lesser light.”