Don't Believe What You See in the Papers
The untrustworthiness of news photography.
By Jim Lewis
Posted Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006, at 5:48 PM ET
There's an old joke about a Southern preacher who's asked by a skeptical congregant if he really believes in infant baptism. "Believe in it?" the preacher replies. "Why, I've seen it done!" I thought of the preacher when I heard the latest in photojournalism's long line of mini-scandals, this one involving a Lebanese freelancer named Adnan Hajj who was working in Beirut. Hajj altered at least two photographs: In one he cloned a plume of smoke rising from buildings that Israeli planes had bombed; in another he altered the image of an Israeli F-16 to make it look like it was dropping more ordnance than it was. Both pictures were bought by Reuters, which sent them out on its photo service. When the forgeries were pointed out, the agency pulled the pictures, dismissed the photographer, and issued a statement asserting that such fakery had no place in the news business.
It may not, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen regularly. Two days ago, the AP got caught sending out a crudely—and nonsensically—altered photo of an Alaskan oil pipeline worker; last month, the Charlotte Observer fired a photographer for changing the color of the sky in a picture of a firefighters; the same week, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald acknowledged that a picture of prostitutes in Havana had been cobbled together from two different shots; in 2003 the Los Angeles Times sacked a photographer for combining two pictures from Iraq, taken moments apart, into one. In fact, it's beginning to look as if every major institution that prints photos has printed doctored or manipulated photos: Time and Newsweek, the New York Times and USA Today, Harvard University and Science magazine, and the 2004 Bush campaign. (There's a good rogue's gallery here.) Some of these were quite serious attempts to mislead the public, and some were relatively trivial, but all of them undermine the public's trust in the reality of photographs. And so much the better, because that trust is badly misplaced.
Read the rest here.