Monday, August 7, 2006
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Faked Reuters photos -- open thread
Comment away on the Reuters decision to withdraw all photographs by a Lebanese freelancer because he doctored his photographs to make Israeli bombing damage appear worse than it actually was -- and the role the right-wing blogosphere played in this decision.
I confess to actual shock -- I thought this kind of thing only happened when O.J. Simpson was arrested.
Two more serious thoughts:
1) Is this the tip of the iceberg or merely an isolated incident? If the former, how much misperception does such photo doctoring create about the current conflict?posted by Dan on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM
There is always a lot of media manipulation going around in a conflict, and photo doctoring, stage management, careful release of pictures is all part of it. Nothing new.
DOes it create misperceptions ? Probably, but its been with us for a long time. Nothing new.
Given that (a) a photojournalist's success in his field is based on how compelling his images are, (b) it is relatively easy to Photoshop pictures to look more compelling, and (c) there's no independent confirmation of whether a photo is legit, it seems pretty likely that this sort of corruption is widespread.
As a general rule, when the rewards of cheating are great and the supervision is lax, cheating becomes rampant.posted by: Dan on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
This is an attractive story because by implication it posits a bright line between reporting fact and selling opinion. It says: un-doctored photos are objective representations of reality, but the minute you use photoshop you've stepped over the line. Unfortunately, there's no such line. Photos (and video) inescapably reflect the biases of the photographer about what's important. CNN doesn't deluge us with images of calm and security outside of the Sunni triangle. VH1 doesn't give us the cribs of the lower middle class. This photographer wasn't trying to obscure reality by drawing in more smoke over Lebanon or more ordinance from the Israeli planes -- he was trying to better reflect reality as he sees it in his photos. I'm sure that's what every Reuters photographer does - with or without photoshop.posted by: M Chanoff on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
It would be a slightly more interesting debate if you showed the entire image. Not only was the smoke in the cropped presentation enhanced but in the area cropped out another portion of the same smoke was enhanced (poorly) to look like it was the result of a separate explosion.
The fact that a photo this poorly retouched made it past the editors into circulation is a far more interesting story than who happened to catch them at it.posted by: Stephen Macklin on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
This should not be downplayed; it is serious stuff. It is, I believe, the tip of the ice berg.posted by: Brad on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
The MSM's quality control issues are starting to look like the 1970's American auto industry's. Remember the K car?
One can only hope that some of you bloggers will provide the kind of redress that Honda and Toyota did.
We'll know when Charles Johnson or Glenn Reynolds are asking questions at a White House press conference.posted by: jake on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
What will Instahack say ? "heh" ? besides, his remarkable record of being wrong on the Iraq war makes the MSM look positively brilliant.posted by: erg on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
I think the more interesting question is about staged photos. That's getting a few mentions but probably deserves more.
Don't get me wrong, I think there's plenty to be mad at Israel about. However a lot of media are themselves not necessarily trustworthy.posted by: Clark Goble on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
I think the more interesting question is about staged photos. That's getting a few mentions but probably deserves more.
IMO, 'manipulation' of photos by altering the actual content of the image is relatively rare.
Misrepresenting the situation by staging the shot or cropping the image is far more common, but is a lot more difficult to detect.posted by: rosignol on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
This is the tiny tip of a very large iceberg. The Leftstream media used to have a lot of credibility simply because it was around a long time and people didn't have all of the available information to see how bad the reporting and analysis actually was. This lack of transparency and accountability led the members of the Leftstream media to believe in their own infallibility. Dan Rather is a perfect example. Recent humiliations have not led any of them to seriously question themselves so things will continue as usual, but the internet and blogosphere will continue to grow and catch them in the act with greater frequency.posted by: andrew on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
I've spent a few minutes looking at the two pictures. I am no expert in bombing of urban areas, but it is not clear to me which of the two looks worse. If I lived in the town, the reality reflected in either would be pretty darn rotten. Photos shouldn't be doctored by the media ever -- but I think some folks have their knickers too tightly in a twist on this one. Bombs and urban destruction are bombs and urban destruction. Smoke is smoke.posted by: mike on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Do a quick technorati search for other examples by the photographer in question. There are others more egregious than this. Its a consistent pattern of doctoring pictures, staging pictures and/or re-cropping old photos as demonstration of new damage.
Dan's choice wasn't the best to illustrate the point, but the facts are pretty indisputable.posted by: Jim on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Fake news for propaganda purposes has always been used by all sides--remember the classic story of Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait killing premature babies so they could steal the incubators? So people should be skeptical.
The questions as I see them are:
In the ideological hothouse that we live in, we assume actions like these are ideologically motivated. But remember, news is a business, and every newperson, from the lowliest freelance photog to the media barons, want to make money--and that colors the news. We only have to recall Hearst and Pulizter and the Spanish-American War for a good historical example.
I am therefore suspicious whenever partisan types on the left or the right ascribe an ideological bias to a presentation of the news which the partisan types don't like.posted by: RWB on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
We should give Billmon the final word on this matter.
Look at how the Hezbollywood artists cleverly Photoshopped a blue Star of David onto the image of Godzilla stomping Beirut.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
andrew: can I keep you and put you in a box? you're so adorable.posted by: perianwyr on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
I'm rather at a loss to see how this photo is particularly worse. Of course Reuters was correct in its action, but really other than making the smoke plume taller (in a wierd sort of manner) it doesn't do much.
As a comment above notes (or implies) this rather feels like a photographer sexing up a product (stupidly) than making things look "worse" per se.
The slavering on among the American right about 'Leftmedia' and the like merely underlines the Bolshevik type thinking that seems to have infected them. Embarassing really. Almost makes the Left look good, although that is a terribly low standard to shoot for.posted by: The Lounsbury on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
If you look at each version of the whole photograph you see that he attempted to make it look like Israel bombed many buildings in the city rather than just one.posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
No, of course, Sebastian, you are perfectly right: the IDF has bombed only a single building in Beirut. It caused no damage and no one was hurt either!
I think it is too bad that the reporter did this, but it is really a minor issue. the right will have a field day but that doesn't mean it is important. and it has been delt with. but, in this respect, mark lynch writes about a more important matter that was disclosed in a paper in which "Major Joseph Cox has just published... called "Information Operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom -- What Went Wrong?" for the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth."
after talking about the first half of the paper, Lynch writes:
Up to this point, the report has been interesting to the specialist such as myself, but not exactly full of juicy tidbits. But here's where things suddenly get interesting. Cox writes: "A lack of media outlets in the divisions' areas limited the divisions' ability to reach their populace quickly and efficiently. The divisions set out to create media in the areas of responsibility. Their PSYOP units used PSYOP operational funds ... [and] by the end of 2003, every Division had created a number of newspapers, radios and TV stations." Say what?!? Later, he writes: "As individual Iraqi media outlets became functional, primarily with PSYOP support, tactical PSYOP units would use those fledgling outlets to support their product dissemination."
Is there any way to read this other than that some significant portion of the Iraqi media which emerged after Saddam's fall was in fact a fully funded and operational Psychological Operations campaign? If that's the case, then this would seem to quite a revelation. Which newspapers, radios and TV stations were actually PSYOP operations, one might want to know, and which exactly which PSYOP "products" were disseminated through them? While I'd imagine that most enterprising journalists are either in Lebanon or on vacation, this still might be worth somebody following up on.
UPDATE: in case it isn't clear what's at stake here, there are two issues.
First, if you recall the Lincoln Group fiasco, the problem there wasn't that "good news" articles were being placed in the Iraqi press, or even that they were paying for play - it was that the origin of those articles was concealed to make it look like they came from Iraqis rather than from Americans. That's a big no no. If the PSYOPS newspapers, radio and television stations were not clearly identified as American military outlets, and were presented as genuine Iraqi outlets, then it would be the Lincoln Group fiasco on a much larger scale... and carried out by the military itself and not by an amateurish, unqualified contractor. That's a big "if", and it is not clear from the report.
The second issue is that anyone who has followed the Iraq issue over the last few years knows how central the post-Saddam flourishing of a free press - usually presented in terms of the hundreds of newspapers which began publishing after Saddam's fall - was to the Bush administration's defense of the war. Here are just the first few examples which came up high on a google search of the White House website:
"And for the first time in many years, a free press is at work in Iraq. Across that country today, more than 150 newspapers are publishing regularly." -- Bush radio address, August 9, 2003
"More than 150 Iraqi newspapers are now in circulation, printing what they choose, not what they're ordered." - Bush at Whitehall Palace, November 19, 2003
"Hundreds of Iraqi newspapers are now in circulation, with no Baathist enforcers telling them what to print." - Cheney, World Economic Forum, January 24, 2004.
I could go on, ad infinitum: "hundreds of Iraqi newspapers" was a major talking point for the United States at the highest levels. If it turns out that some significant portion of those hundreds of newspapers were actually American PSYOPS funded outlets designed to carry American PSYOPS products, it would shed rather a new light on this talking point.
Again, everything turns on whether those PSYOPS-created, funded, and employed media outlets were identified as American military outlets or as real Iraqi newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. If the former, then the question reverts to one of effectiveness - Cox's main concern in his report: why were the information operations so ineffective? If it's the latter, then an altogether different set of questions needs to be posed. It shouldn't be that hard to find out which it is.
posted by: joe m. on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Ihave checked other presentations of the photos on the web. Both original and doctored seem to have smoke coming from one building -- no pattern of greater or lesser destruction, the difference is amount of smoke. No expert, but isn't smoke related to what was in building that was hit, not the severity of the hit? No reason to give Reuters any gold stars for this behavior but it is hard for me to see that the doctored photos significantly misrepresent what happened.posted by: mike on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
I meant check for different pictures altogether, the photographer did this multiple times.
Here is one below, I let you do more digging if you're interested.posted by: Jim on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Earlier-on in the "conflict", a three-story apartment building in Haifa was struck, and the explosion opened up the corner exposing the third and second-floor rooms at the street corner....you can see the furniture and even the dining room rug hanging down out of the third floor apartment. I have seem several MSM TV stations...live-air and cable use that same distrinctive damaged building to "illustrate" damaged building in Gaza, Beruit and Tyre. On 6PM major new-program used the same footage twice about 45-secs apart to "illustrate" damage in both Israel and Beruit...several days after the original story about the buildiung Haifa. It's apparently used in loop-footage as "stock photography" by several MSM outlets.
And it burns me when the "reporter" is standing in front of rubble and claiming "...the whole village has been flattened" when there's intact two and three-story buildings standing in plain-view right behind him adjacent to the "flattened" building. The MSM are just Hizbullah propagandists and apologists when it comes to their coverage north of the Israeli-frontier.posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
The thing is, the MSM is generally very very protective of their professional turf (see pajamas, Rather). Can you imagine the MSM paying a Bob Jones grad-student to go cover the RNC? It's preposterous. Even the idea of hiring local Israeli scabs to go shoot pictures in Northern Israel would be laughed out of the room. But when it comes to Iraq and Lebanon, these guys are more than happy to shove some money at the local stringers and plop up whatver they come back with, no questions asked. Just another example of holding the West to a higher standard. The hypocracy built into PC thinking cant really be fathomed.posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
This Photoshopping job is absolutely breathtakingly inept, so much so that the photographer could just as easily have been fired for incompetence as for unethical behavior. Anyone notice the obvious cloning, four times over, of smoke at the top of the cloud? It looks like a bad hair transplant.
It's a pity because the real image is horrific enough. What is happening to Lebanon is a disgrace and quite apart from the humanitarian cost it is only strengthening Hezbollah. While making paupers out of people who tried to take their country back, the IAF/IDF has succeeded in making heroes out of a terror group. If there's any justice right now the wind will change to northerly and blow that huge power station oil slick from the IAF bombing on to Israeli beaches.posted by: DB on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Forgot to add, if you look, not all that carefully, at the bottom of the plume of smoke, you will see the photographer cloned the top of the burning building 75 or so feet up in the air, so that it is floating in the dark cloud. Like I say, if this is the best a photographer can do to cover his tracks, he does not know how to use Photoshop.
But it also says what I think about the MSM -- the incompetence and laziness is more glaring than the malevolence.posted by: DB on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Sorry to post yet again, but if you have seen some of the satellite before-and-after images you will see how heavily the IAF has flattened South Beirut. It's reminiscent of what the British did to Germany in 1944 and 1945; it is far beyond even major Israeli actions in the past.
This whole thing has the sad stench of an inadequate center-left government (i.e. Kadima-Mapai) trying to prove itself on a security issue by committing terrorism of its own. Not that the current Israeli right (Netanyahu) is any more capable, but one at least suspects that they would be secure enough in their own faculties to have dealt with this situation better.posted by: DB on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
King Colbert- you may want to take a look at this- be sure to turn on the labels, it tells you what the targets were.
posted by: rosignol on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
I too see no essential difference between the two photos. I also don't see anything particularly damaging in the photos of the other links - IDF tends to bomb the same area again and again so it's quite likely to get two different photos in two different days of the same building.
Beirut as a whole is pretty much intact but a particular neighborhood has been nearly flattened. There is also extensive damage to roads and some people have been killed in their cars while fleeing the bombings.
posted by: BB on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
A few snippets from yesterday’s Geopolitical Intelligence Report by George Friedman: “In Lebanon, we have just seen the value of air campaigns pursued in isolation…It is not clear that the Iranians expected all of this to have gone quite as well as it has…While the United States was focused on the chimera of an Iranian nuclear bomb -- a possibility that, assuming everything we have heard is true, remains years away from becoming reality -- Iran has moved to redefine the region.”
Thanks for the New Middle East.
It's important to remember that Southern Beirut wasnt exactly pristine before the conflict started.posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
Oh, well that’s fine then.
Look, if you want to say Israel's bombing the hell out of Beirut, go right ahead. Just don't be surprised when someone points out that Israel is bombing the hell out of Hizbullah's private gated community, not Beirut in general.posted by: rosignol on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
1) Is this the tip of the iceberg or merely an isolated incident? If the former, how much misperception does such photo doctoring create about the current conflict?
I expect it happens a lot and it really doesn't make much difference. People like dramatic pictures. If you can't give them a dramatic picture of a smoke cloud then they'll take a dramatic picture at a hospital. No big deal.
2) To what extent will examples like this cause supporters of Israel to discount all mainstream media accounts of the damage in Lebanon.
Hardly at all. Supporters of israel will discount all mainstream media accounts of the damage in lebanon regardless. The individual excuse won't really make any difference.
Right. There is no real damage being done in Lebanon. Israel, a humanitarian country, to be sure, and altogether innocent of any racism, a country that only wishes to live in peace amongst its quarrelsome and so hard-to-please neighbors, has reluctatnly yielded to the need to lob a few little old bomblets. Of course, a few children and women were hurt--that's war for you! :-) A million homeless--oh well, they have a meditarenean climate, you know. Tents will do. And so on and on, revealing the times in which evil passes for good.posted by: Jonathan on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
"It's important to remember that Southern Beirut wasnt exactly pristine before the conflict started."
Mark, are you insane? If New York City was being bombed, but the bombing was mostly happening in Harlem, would have the stupidity to make a similar statement? Would you make statements Harlem was not so hot to begin with?
Good for you Mark. Keep showing the world how compassionate and moral Americans are. I am sure you will be loved in no time. And America and Israel will be safe tomorrow.posted by: Joe M. on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
If New York City was being bombed, but the bombing was mostly happening in Harlem, would have the stupidity to make a similar statement?
That kind of depends on if Harlem was controlled by a private armed group that was a law unto itself, was kidnapping Canadians, and launching missiles at Canada.posted by: rosignol on 08.07.06 at 07:28 PM [permalink]
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