A controversial photograph of Mitt Romney has prompted a call for firings at the Associated Press. (AP photo/Evan Vucci)

Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly is calling for the Associated Press to fire its staff responsible for distributing an unflattering photo of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who was crouching in front of a young girl, but the AP is now only offering an apology of sorts.

The image, snapped Monday by AP photographer Evan Vucci in front of a school in Fairfield, Va., shows Romney bending over to prepare for a photo opportunity, and a girl standing behind him reacting with her mouth wide open.

“That picture never ever should have been published,” O’Reilly said Tuesday night. “You take a picture like that and you throw it away! Because there’s nothing worthy about it.”

“They would not have done that to President Obama. We all know that. So the person who did that at the Associated Press, who put that picture out on the wire, should be fired,” he continued. “Whoever sent that out, whatever person sent that out, if I were in charge of the AP would have been fired.”

The bestselling author also predicted the wire service would issue a public apology.

“I guarantee you the Associated Press will be so embarrassed [Wednesday], that they will apologize for that appalling display.”

AP’s senior vice-president and executive editor Kathleen Carroll did, in fact, issue a statement apologizing only for its lack of clarity about the situation:

The original caption on the photo of Gov. Romney taken Monday at a Virginia school was literally correct — it said the governor was posing for photos with schoolchildren. But it was too generic and missed the boat by not explaining exactly what was happening. The student with the surprised expression had just realized that the governor was going to crouch down in front of her for the group photo.

We amended the caption on Tuesday with that explanation, but by then many people had seen the photo and were confused by or angry about it. Those generic captions help us process a large number of photos on a busy campaign day, but some photos demand more explanation and we fell short of our own standards by not providing it in this case.

Fox News analyst Monica Crowley noted, “The Associated Press has always been on the left, they always oppose Republicans, they always oppose conservatives, but this particular image, number one, it was put out to make Romney literally look like an ass, and secondly … this borders on child abuse with this child because it is a very suggestive picture.”

O’Reilly agreed, stating, “It’s obviously the worst possible abuse that the AP is doing. Not only are they exploiting that child – and if I were the child’s parents, believe me, I’d have a lawyer on the phone – but they’re trying to run down a guy that they obviously don’t want to see win. … This is what the media is right now.”

Coming to AP’s defense was left-leaning news commentator Alan Colmes.

1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis got tanked in his presidential campaign.

“Nobody should be fired. You want to fire the guy who took the [1988 Democratic nominee Michael] Dukakis picture in the tank? How about the [Vice President] Biden picture with a biker chick sitting on his lap?” Colmes asked. “I don’t think it was a purposeful act on the part of the Associated Press.”

“Is there anybody in the country that agrees with that?” an incredulous O’Reilly shouted. “That’s insane!”

Steve Manuel, senior lecturer at Penn State’s College of Communications and an award-winning photojournalist, told FoxNews.com the AP must have known how the image would be perceived.

“In this photo, while it may appear funny, AP knows exactly what viewers are thinking,” he said. “It’s not legitimate news. AP knows that viewers are going to chuckle and imagine what the little girl is seeing, and it makes Gov. Romney appear a bit foolish. That isn’t the purpose or mission of photojournalism. …  Candidate or not, it is not the mission of a news organization to place anyone in a position to be ridiculed or made fun of. Reporting the news is, and this is not newsworthy.”

The Associated Press issued an initial statement Tuesday on the matter:

The Associated Press on Monday took and distributed six photos of Gov. Romney’s visit to an elementary school in Fairfield, Va., to its member news organizations and customers.

One image showed Mr. Romney as he was crouching down to pose for a photo with the schoolchildren. It received a caption addition on Tuesday to better explain what was happening. The caption addition was as follows:

CLARIFIES THAT STUDENT IS REACTING BECAUSE MITT ROMNEY WILL BE POSING FOR A PHOTO DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF HER AND HER CLASSMATES – Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney poses for photographs with students of Fairfield Elementary School, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in Fairfield, Va. A student, right, reacts as she realizes Romney will crouch down directly in front of her and her classmates for the group photo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Vice President Joe Biden cozies up to a female biker while campaigning in Ohio in September 2012.

Erik Wemple, a blogger at the Washington Post, called the caption addition helpful, but was not enthusiastic about the explanation.

“Now we know what accounts for that amazed expression on the face of the child behind the Republican presidential candidate,” he wrote. “Yet the statement here hews to the clinical, to its detriment. Why not a little statement of regret to the candidate for throwing out a photo that makes him look silly, sans explanation?”

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