Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Fake Photo War

The IDF and the Israeli government may be feeling fallout from the war in Lebanon, but I predict the war's greatest long-term impact will be on the field of photojournalism, which was repeatedly exposed for publishing staged, manipulated, or outright phony pictures throughout the war.

Thanks to the rise of social journalism in the form of blogs and talkbacks, no picture published by the major media is safe from the probing eyes of sceptical readers. And the more bloggers dig, the more fake photos they find. Even the New York Times was recently flagged - erroneously - for publishing a photo that appeared to be treated in photoshop.

Unfortunately, comments from photo editors project a defensive posture rather than a spirit of working to regain credibility. The article "Photojournalism in the Age of Scrutiny," published by the Poynter Institute, looks at two recent cases: the NYT photo featuring a microphone cord that seems to vanish unnaturally and an AP photo of Katie Couric that was touched up by CBS to make Couric appear 20 pounds lighter. (Both photos are included in the article).

Michele McNally, the Times’ assistant managing editor for photography, characterized the controversy as more a reflection of the general questioning of photojournalism than as specific criticism aimed at the Times.

"Ever since the most recent Reuters discovery (of altered photos of the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting) many people have taken it upon themselves to question the veracity of all images" she said in an e-mail to Poynter Online. "One should note, during this particular war, each side is continually trying to prove an 'agenda' in all media outlets. They call into question everything, every usage, balance. You cannot persuade either side that you have (no agenda) because to them, there is no other truth but their own."
So much for taking responsibility. Someone should inform Ms. McNally that Reuters didn't "discover" the altered photos it was publishing. Bloggers like Charles Johnson (of Little Green Footballs) did. She should also note that ALL of the altered or staged photos fom the conflict that have surfaced so far were manipulated to make Israel look bad. Surely someone has some kind of agenda when that happens, and editors at the New York Times would be wise to consider that as new anti-Israel photos land on their desks.

But McNally is right about two things. The Times photo with the disappearing wire was actually an optical illusion, not a fake photo. And there are people who believe "there is no other truth but their own." Too bad so many of them work for the press.


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