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Fake Photographs and One-Way Political Angst

Iraq, Lebanon

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Updated January 25, 2008

Recently, the blogosphere was ablaze with (conservative) outrage over a photo of Beirut, burning after an Israeli raid, that had been modified to make the smoke appear more omenous. [There was no argument over whether the raid had occurred.]

This incident is just one of many documented cases of "doctored" photos appearing in print or online as "the real thing." Most of the media-related ones, regrettably, have been sanctioned by the media company. There are two notable execptions.

The First Picture
On 1 April 2003, the LA Times published a photo on its front page ... that was a fake. It was a composite of two different images of a US soldier in Iraq, combined to make the photo appear more dramatic, and the photo editor "missed the manipulation." The LA Times, the editor and the photographer apologized. (Image) The paper fired the photographer, who was a staffer.

There was a long discussion on an online-news mailing list about the ethics of photo-manipulation. A surprisingly large number of the posters saw no problem with the composite. Others pointed out that the darkroom has always provided an opportunity for "manipulation" -- that's what fiddling around with light and chemicals is, for goodness sakes.

Little Green Footballs -- a conservative blog -- ran one post with minor editorial comment and no outrage. Iraq is a war supported by the blog.

The Second Picture
Flash forward three years to what LGF has called "Reutersgate." A much different level of outrage is present today; LGF supports Israel. And this outrage has provided the LGF editor with a national MSM spotlight.

What happened? A Reuters freelance photographer appears to have added smoke and darkened existing smoke above buildings in Beirut after Israeli bombing. Reuters dropped the photographer's contract. (Image)

Comparison
Both photographers sought to tell a "more dramatic" story than the "plain" story caught by the camera. The Reuters image is a much more crude manipulation, one that seems unnecessary. Neither should have been published -- but both were outed, and the journalists, fired. However, only one garnered outrage in the conservative blogosphere ... the one that (only slightly) besmirched Israel. Not the one that (falsely) suggested a US solider had something to fear from an Iraqi.

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