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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Don't believe your eyes if Reuters takes the picture

We always knew that Reuters was tilted towards the terrorist side of every story. But over the weekend, a remarkable thing happened.

The blogosphere destroyed the integrity of Reuters' photographs.

On Saturday, Little Green Footballs noticed an obvious and poorly-done Photoshop edit of a picture showing smoke over Beirut, to make it appear that the smoke was worse than it really was.

This caused the blogosphere do what it does best - experts started looking at other photos to see other inconsistencies. And so far, two major ones were found:
  • EU Referendum (which did an amazing job showing that the Qana photos were staged) found that the same photographer Photoshopped another picture of an Israeli plane, adding what he thought were missiles. This was doubly troubling - first because he faked another picture, and who knows how many others that have been printed in major newspapers, but also because he supplied a caption that was clearly wrong. (See also Jawa Report.)
  • Drinking from Home showed a woman "grieving" over the loss of her home - twice, in two different locations and two weeks apart. (At least it was two different photographers.)
As EU Referendum points out, while photo manipulation can be detected when done poorly, who fact-checks the captions? When stringers are employed as photographers, presumably they provide the captions or at least the context of the photograph - and they probably have even fewer ethics than the journalists who work for wire services.

For example, using the same Photoshopping photographer, here is a picture he took on July 14 and the caption:

A rocket fired by Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrilla group makes its way to hit an Israeli naval vessel off Beirut July 14, 2006. REUTERS/Adnan Hajj (LEBANON)

How exactly does he know where the rocket will land? How does he know that this is the one missile that will hit the Israeli boat? Or was this a case where he had a nice night-time shot of a rocket/missile/flare/firework and chose a caption that would be the most dramatic?

We have already seen how Hezbollah not only manipulates the press in Lebanon, but even threatens them. As Tom Gross reported:
Writing on his blog while reporting from southern Lebanon, Time magazine contributor Christopher Allbritton, casually mentioned in the middle of a posting: “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.”
But not only do we have to worry about slanted coverage from journalists who want to save their necks, and not only do we have to worry about staged scenes from terrorists where photographers don't know enough to dig beneath the surface to get at the truth, but we also have to worry about journalists and photographers who knowingly lie to advance their agendas.

The agenda isn't always "Israel is evil." Often it is "What can make this story more interesting?" Or, more cynically, "What can I get an award for?" Either way, it is rarely in Israel's interest for a journalist to be completely honest and provide a full context for the story.