August 7, 2006

Faking the photographs.

Really crudely done photoshopping -- with obvious political intent -- has gotten past the editors at Reuters in the last few days. Quite apart from the dismaying ineptitude of missing the clear evidence of manipulation that bloggers will eagerly and easily throw in their faces, we should worry that there is much more subtle and expert use of photoshopping going on all the time. These recent incidents should wake us up and make us mistrust every photograph that is ever offered up as anything other than an imaginative illustration.

UPDATE: Reuters takes down all 920 photographs by Adnan Hajj.

61 comments:

HD_Wanderer said...

This is a big concern. As a graphic designer who uses PhotoShop on a regular basis, I could put together images that would fool most if not all. The opportunity for misuse is immense.

Dave said...

Tom Glocer should be sweating bullets right now.

Are photographs still considered admissible evidence in court?

Bruce Hayden said...

I had similar worries. Stephen C. Carlson's comment that: 'The photographer's excuse was, according to a Reuters PR person: "The photographer has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under". What bothers me about the excuse is that it suggests that some amount of post-processing to enhance photographs is routine.' makes this even more worrisome.

On one level, it makes sense that photographers would want to clean up their pictures a bit, removing dust and compensating for bad light. But as Carlson suggests, what is the line between that and the type of manipulation that we saw in the Reuters photo?

The problem is that a lot of photography is going digital, and as a result, some sort of photoshopping is almost assurred to occur - you have the photo on your computer as a necessary step before sending it to the news organization, you have PhotoShop (or clone), and you want to make it look just a little better, so you run some basic cleanup before sending it in - esp. keeping in mind that the better the picture, the more likely it is that it is printed (and that you get paid for it).

Bruce Hayden said...

Dave,

As far as I know, they are. But what must be remembered is that, by themselves, they are almost useless. Rather, they have to be authenticated to be admitted, and part of that is stating under oath that this indeed was the photo I took, or, alternatively, that it is a good representation of something. Stating under oath that this was a photo you took, when you actually photoshopped it first, would seem to verge on perjury (depending, of course, on the precise question being answered).

Al Maviva said...

The same photographer (Adnan Hajj) has generated a lot of really striking and horrifying images, including the wedding dress mannekin picture, a bunch of pictures involving the ubiquitous green helmet rescue worker, and one of the Koran, burning atop a pile of rubble. They are certain to be used to whip the troops into a frenzy, especially the one with the burning Koran, that has what looks to be cigarette lighter burns on one side.

It's not that the photos have political content. It's that this person taking (what now appear to be intentionally set up) pictures for Reuters has been passed off as a legitimate journalistic source. Insofar as the facts at hand shape our opinions, a bunch of the photographic "facts" coming out of Lebanon have been manufactured. That's a pretty s4177y way to back ourselves into WW IV, I think.

MadisonMan said...

al, Did I sleep through WWIII? What else have I missed?

vw: utrbl!

Slocum said...

Eventually software may help a lot. For example:

http://news.com.com/Smoking+out+photo+hoaxes+with+software/2100-1008_3-6033312.html

Also, it should be possible for wire services to do a lot more in the way of low-tech validating. For example, they could demand the original, unprocessed shots from the digital camera as well as the post-processed versions. They could require photographers to shoot in 'raw' mode whenever possible and submit the 'raw' files. They could require the submission of all the shots in the session rather than just the 'keepers'. Fraud wouldn't be impossible with these kinds of rules in place, but it would be very much more difficult and time-consuming (imagine having to photoshop every shot in the batch and/or trying to find software that would mimic the in-camera JPEG or RAW compression algorithms), and the probability of being caught would be higher.

Bruce Hayden said...

I hadn't realized that this was the same guy who made all the photos of the green helmeted guy. As is probably well known by those here, those pictures show a lot of evidence of being staged. Adding staging to photo editing is a bit scary.

I should also note that I fell into the trap of using "photoshopping" as a verb, as do many here, until I started musing about the IP ramifications of that usage. Photoshop is the federally registered trademark for one of Adobe's flagship products, and that usage is verging on illegal.

Dave said...

"Photoshop is the federally registered trademark for one of Adobe's flagship products, and that usage is verging on illegal."

The naivete of lawyers continues apace. Good luck trying to defend the verbing of Photoshop against the onslaught of millions of commenters.

Excuse me while I go xerox my kleenex while drinking coke.

Bruce Hayden said...

I had similar ideas to those of Slocum. I think that, in particular, news organizations should require that original photos be submitted, along with the cleaned up versions.

Depending on the news organizations to do the cleanup has a ccuple of problems. First, it dilutes the copyright in the photo. And, secondly, it potentially reduces the ability of a photographer to sell his work - as the clean / original versions are unlikely to be as visually appealing.

What I am envisioning as a pragmatic solution is that both the original and edited version be sumbitted. Then, software can be used to identify the revisions made to the photo, and eee if they are merely cosmetic, or of substance, as was the apparent case here.

Bruce Hayden said...

Dave,

That is precisely the problem. I don't know how agressive the attorneys were with Kleenex, but Xerox has been very agressive at policing their mark, and, yet, look at the results. You may be right - it is probably too late for Adobe, but I do expect them to try fairly hard here. Maybe 8 years ago, I dealt with them on this product, and at that time, they were treating it like their crown jewels - never mind that what we were trying to do would sell more of their product.

Let me add though that if they aren't super-agressive about trying to police the useage of their registered trademark, they will surely lose it. In a case like this, one of the things that courts do look at is zeal in policing a mark.

John(classic) said...

It is not just the nainipulation of the pixels and it is not just Reuters and not just Adnan Hajj.

Check out the most unlucky howmewoner in Beirut:

http://drinkingfromhome.blogspot.com/2006/08/extreme-makeover-beirut-edition.html

Bruce Hayden said...

Also, take a look at today's Day by Day cartoon.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

It reminds me of the OJ Simpson mugshot which Time darkened for its cover.

Have the editors changed? No.. just the technology.

Bruce Hayden said...

The following is a post by
href="http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_08_06-2006_08_12.shtml#1154937521">Jim
Lindgren at Volokh.com:
More Phony Pictures From Reuters, and
one from AP.-- The closer people look at Reuters news photos from Iraq, the more fraud
they are finding. See the examples at
href="http://powerlineblog.com/archives/014919.php">Powerline
,
href="http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/184206.php">Jawa
, and
href="http://drinkingfromhome.blogspot.com/2006/08/extreme-makeover-beirut-edition.html">Drinking
From Home
. The last set linked seems to show more Hezbollah posed
pictures for the Western press (and the involvement of the Associated
Press).

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't know what happened to my last post - the HTML looked good to me. But here is Jim Lindgren's post at volokh.com again:

More Phony Pictures From Reuters, and one from AP.-- The closer people look at Reuters news photos from Iraq, the more fraud they are finding. See the examples at Powerline, Jawa, and Drinking From Home. The last set linked seems to show more Hezbollah posed pictures for the Western press (and the involvement of the Associated Press).

SteveR said...

I thought the acceptable standard was "fake but accurate" just work from the answer backwards to find (or create) whatever evidence supports it.

Ignore the blogger behind the curtain.

Jonathan said...

Bruce Hayden wrote:
On one level, it makes sense that photographers would want to clean up their pictures a bit, removing dust and compensating for bad light. But as Carlson suggests, what is the line between that and the type of manipulation that we saw in the Reuters photo?

The line is clear. Adjusting contrast and brightness, cloning out dusk marks (which are much less frequent on digicam images than on scans from film) and sharpening are directly analogous to common and acceptable practices used with film photos. These practices make photos look better but do not change their meaning (unless taken to extremes, e.g., changing brightness to make day look like night). In most cases the necessary adjustments can be defined by algorithm and performed automatically (e.g., auto-contrast). Nobody is going to submit distorted photos without intending to do so.

What is unacceptable is cloning for any purpose other than to remove small dust spots. Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect well-done cloning.

Requiring submission of Raw files might help, but doing so would probably also increase greatly the work load on photo editors.

Whatever the photo technology it will always be possible to stage photos, or to frame them misleadingly by excluding relevant parts of the scene or other important context. I think the best way for media organizations to minimize fraud (assuming they want to; I am not sure Reuters does) is probably to be more careful about whom they hire as photographers.

Palladian said...

The proffered excuse is laughable. First of all, what kind of dust is on a digital image? The only conceivable "dust" would be on the lens which is improbable because professional photograpers clean their lenses rather obsessively. Old-style emulsion photographs could have "dust" marks on them from several sources, such as the film itself or the negative during printing, but the kind of retouching (with paint) was usually not done in the field.

Second, and even more absurd, is the notion that he botched the retouching job due to "poor lighting conditions". If you're "removing dust marks" with Photoshop, you're doing it on a computer. Computers have monitors, which don't have differing lighting conditions. They're either on or off; if they're on, they're lit up as brightly in a war-torn apartment in Beirut as they would be in a dorm room in Madison.

knoxgirl said...

a bunch of pictures involving the ubiquitous green helmet rescue worker

I had heard about these, but in my head, sort of dismissed it " I seriously doubt anybody would be so dumb as to use the same guy over and over, this is some sort of conspiracy theory." Then I actually looked at some of the photos last night. Unbelievable.

I don't give the media much credit, but I (used to) give them enough credit to be embarrassed by something like this. Wrong again! They are simply resurrecting the "fake but accurate" line.

Jake said...

Every assumes that photographer is at fault. Knowing Reuters past history, I assume an editor made a staffer Photoshop the picture.

Slocum said...

First of all, what kind of dust is on a digital image? The only conceivable "dust" would be on the lens which is improbable because professional photograpers clean their lenses rather obsessively.

Actually, that's not true -- digital SLRs (which is what working photojournalists would normally be using) can have dust problems. Dust can get on the sensor when changing lenses, and unlike film photography, the dust isn't on just one frame of film but on the sensor used for every shot. Some manufacturers have put in systems to try to solve the problem. For example:

"Olympus’ Dust Reduction System produces spot-free photos with the exclusive Supersonic Wave Filter that uses ultrasonic technology to shake dust off the image sensor every time you turn the camera on. These spot-free photos liberate users from hours spent retouching images at the computer. The new EVOLT E-330, like all Olympus digital SLR cameras, is equipped with this exclusive user-friendly technology."

http://www.steves-digicams.com/2006_reviews/e330.html

Dave said...

Bruce--I appreciate that companies want to protect their brand name. But that is a futile endeavor in this day and age. Lawyers who continue to insist that their clients can and should spend shareholder money to defend their name are only forestalling the inevitable.

See: Kozinski, Mattel and Aqua's song Barbie Girl.

Ann Althouse said...

"Photoshop is the federally registered trademark for one of Adobe's flagship products, and that usage is verging on illegal."

Driving 55 in a 55 MPH zone is verging on illegal. AKA not illegal.

Bruce Hayden said...

Ann,

You have me there. Arguably, it is a civil tort, but, contrary to copyright, not a crime. And that is really Adobe's problem. It is one thing to go after big companies that misuse its registered marks, but it can't sue everyone out there who does it, and that is where it is likely to lose its trademark. At some point, I think it highly likely that "photoshop" will become so generic that even diligence in policing the mark won't save it.

Bruce Hayden said...

Dave,

That is one of the probblems with trademarks. If your product is so successful that its name becomes the generic name for that type of product, then you can ultimately lose the mark. And in the case of Adobe here, and Xerox in the past, etc., this means that millions of advertising dollars are now down the drain.

So, potentially, if this trend for "Photoshop" continues, we can envision a day when we have Microsoft's "photoshop software suite". Note that MSFT probably won't be able to call the product "Photoshop", but might be able to get away with "photoshop software" because then "photoshop" is used as an adjective instead of as a noun.

And that is the real indication of a mark that has become generic - that it is used as an adjective or a verb, instead of a noun.

Jonathan said...

Jim Miller has a good take on the photo issue. His main points are that 1) Hezbollah will not tolerate journalists in areas it controls unless they file reports and photos that favor Hezbollah, 2) all media organizations are aware of this situation and many tacitly cooperate with Hezbollah in an effort to maintain access and 3) few western journalists will publicly admit what is going on. As Jim points out, the same problems existed in Iraq under the dictatorship. They also exist in the Palestinian territories.

Needles to say, media organizations that submit to blackmail in an attempt to maintain access are corrupt in a way that cannot be remedied merely by better supervising photographers.

Dave said...

Bruce--

Arguably, it's easier for a company to police other companies' use of their trademarks than it is to police the general public's use of the trademark.

The latter--the public's use of trademarks in ways unintended by their owners--is my real point here. If a culprit can be identified, I don't have a problem with a company pursuing its rights to its trademarks. But if the argument is "the general public is calling all photo manipulation processes 'photoshopping' and we should sue 'em all," well, that is a sign to me that one should short that company's stock because it is wasting money on lawyers.

(I don't, by the way, claim to be a lawyer. Only very skeptical of them.)

Madison Guy said...

These recent incidents should wake us up and make us mistrust every photograph that is ever offered up as anything other than an imaginative illustration.

Ann's original point seems to me much more relevant than a lot of the discussion, because it really applies to the entire history of mass media. First of all, Photoshop is not some sneaky technology that makes for unprecedented tampering. As a photographer whose experience bridges the analog and digital, I know that Photoshop simply automates processes that I could perform in the darkroom or even afterward. Photoshop is just a digital airbrush, and we've been living in an airbrushed reality for many decades.

Finally, editorial selection poses far more issues of potential bias than digital manipulation, and is a good deal harder to control.

In other words, photographs were "imaginative illustrations" long before digital cameras came along, and digital file integrity does not guarantee editorial integrity.

Bruce Hayden said...

The thing is that policing a mark, which means first sending out a lot of nasty letters, and then, possibly, litigation, is that if you don't do it, the mark is down the toilet. But if you do, you can often slow gerification down a bit. Note that Xerox is still policing its mark, and most other companies and, in particular, news organizations go out of their way to use the mark appropriately, and to use, for example, "photocoping" and "photocopies" instead of the company's mark.

Remember, Adobe has spent millions of dollars tying this mark to its product, and they stand to lose those millions if they can't do a reputable job at beating misuse down - and, in particular, if the generic use of the mark is ever picked up by the MSM.

Let me not that when I called misuse bordering on illegal, and then that arguably it is trademark infringement, the reason for the "bordering on illegal" is that willful misuse in commerce is a tort under federal law, and "arguably" because in order to be actionable, the usage has to be "in commerce". Ann's blog may be bordering on being "in commerce" as she takes paid advertising, whereas I would suggest that most blogs are not. So, she may be driving closer to 56 or 57 in a 55 zone, instead of 55. Not enough to get a ticket, but enough to violate the law (defending her, I would argue that the use is not really in commerce, and that the word is already "generic" and, thus, merely descptive).

Note to Ann - I am not really trying to suggest that you are doing anything wrong here, and admit that my use of "bordering on illegal" may have been overzelous. What everyone is doing here with "photoshop" is no different than what everyone else is doing today in the blogosphere. Sorry to get the discussion off-track.

Bruce Hayden said...

Madisonguy,

But the difference here is that software, such as Adobe's Photoshop, was used to actually change the content of the pictures here, instead of merely cleaning them up. While it might have been possible to do the type of editing done here (and in other pictures by this photographer) with previous technology, it would have been much harder. In this picture, not only was the smoke made more distinct, but some of the image was duplicated. In another photo by this guy, he shows three flares or rockets having been fired by an Israeli jet, when the original only showed one.

Al Maviva said...

Madison Man said: al, Did I sleep through WWIII? What else have I missed?

I presume you were awake, but rooting for the inevitable march of the dialectic towards a worker's paradise. Therefore you wouldn't have recognized the Cold War as WW III. What you probably also missed, was that history's inevitable march was cancelled, and the workers went home to watch some Tivo'ed Full House reruns.

Jake said: Every assumes that photographer is at fault. Knowing Reuters past history, I assume an editor made a staffer Photoshop the picture.

Nah. Reuters already said Adnan Hajj was doing it, throwing him under the bus quite nicely. Not that it's undeserved, if true.

Ann Althouse said...

Bruce, I'm not a copyright expert, but it's seems obvious that I'm not trading on Adobe's mark by using it as a verb in editorial text. I could make coinages out of all sorts of trade names, for example, if I were to refer to the Disneyfication of a city. I don't think that kind of writing can be considered illegal.

altoids1306 said...

Madison Guy:

Your efforts to downplay the implications of these manipulated photos are admirable - but you should save your energy for more defendible positions.

The reason this is different is because these pictures are false. Editorial bias selects slices of reality that fit an agenda. However, the editorial bias of one news source can be readily countered by competing news sources with different agendas. Certainly editorial bias is a cause for concern, but in this postmodern age, no one believes in objectivity anyways, and it is unreasonable to expect or hope for neutral actors in the media.

Faking photos is a different. Unlike editorial bias, which can be plausibly denied, staging or photoshopping is a positive action. It requires deliberate physical action with the sole intent of deception.

And arguing that this is nothing new won't help either. First of all, there are many tools in Photoshop that have no analog equivalents. Secondly, even for those that do, the ease of use makes it more of an issue now than before. The music industry wasn't worried about people making plaster molds of their vinyl disks and making copies, or taping songs off radio. They only became worried after mp3 and the internet - the digital equivalent that is fast and easy.

That these faked pictures were published indicate a comprehensive failure in the way news organizations operate, which casts doubt on their entire product. It also once again illustrates the vital role of Western media in Islamic terrorism.

Bruce Hayden said...

Oh, the trademark damage is spreading. I saw the term "Reutered" today. That is far worse, from a trademark holder's point of view, because it uses the mark in a derogatory way.

Sorry, I swore I would drop the TM stuff, but I couldn't resist this.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that it is really worse for a Reuters (or an AP) because what they do is resell their "news". Most newspapers I have read carry them, and that puts the papers in question too. Before, Reuters has only really been known for slanting news, but now it is known that they publish actual fake news.

They aren't unique though here. I was watching a CNN exclusive tour of a Hezbellah facility the other day, and, hearkening back to how that news outlet kept its presence in Iraq under Saddam Hussein by suppressing his atrocities, I immediately wondered about what CNN had had to do to get that exclusive tour. What other "news" about Lebanon was slanted or doctored to get that access?

Reuters has apparently pulled all of the guy's stuff - and that includes a lot of the iconic Qana photographs. Hopefully, that includes most of the photos showing the guy with the green helmet.

Damage control - but I suspect that Reuters will suffer a bit for this in the future.

Madison Guy said...

Bruce Hayden,

Software doesn't change much except to get us talking about the issue, since most of us are familiar with the technology, which is good. But again, the examples you cite could easily be accomplished by analog means. Bringing up the smoke? Print at higher contrast. Adding flares or rockets? Multiple exposures in the enlarger, with a little airbrush touchup. A Q-Tip with a little bleach on it could also give you a nice rocket trail.

Back in the seventies, I was amazed at how many of the photos coming over the UPI wire machine showed obvious signs of retouching. But you had to be looking for it. And the coarse newspaper halftones screens at the time tended to obliterate the traces in print.

All these issues were very real years ago. It's just that they were discussed behind closed doors, not publicly.

altoids 1306,

I'm not minimizing the fraud, I'm just saying focusing on Photoshop is simplistic. After all, where did those lovely flying saucer pix come from in the fifties? The wrong way shadows in picture of Lee Harvey Oswald's pic in the backyard with rifle? All those missing persons in the Pravda group photos back then?

The resources to fake pix -- whether analog or digital -- are trivial for anyone with an agenda. So be skeptical. Always.

Jonathan said...

In the old days the photographer might send his films to a lab, or they would be picked up from him in the field and messengered to a local lab or even back to the home country. Even if he processed the film himself he might need help to transmit images back to the office. Several people might be involved in the process even before a photo editor got involved. Tampering with photos may have been doable but it's a lot quicker and easier now.

Today the photographer may be responsible for all of the production work up to the time when he uploads his images. He has more control of the process and more opportunity to change images. Also, because the photographer does most of the production work himself and is likely to be a stringer, it's easy for his employer to jettison him in the event of scandal. At least that's been the case so far. It will be interesting to see how much damage Reuters inflicts on itself before it decides to clean up its practices.

altoids1306 said...

Madison Man:I'm not minimizing the fraud, I'm just saying focusing on Photoshop is simplistic...where did those lovely flying saucer pix come from in the fifties? The wrong way shadows in picture of Lee Harvey Oswald's pic in the backyard with rifle? All those missing persons in the Pravda group photos back then?

The resources to fake pix -- whether analog or digital -- are trivial for anyone with an agenda.


Look, I know you're smarter than this, no need to play dumb. Flying saucers? Pravda group? You can't honestly say those pictures were taken as the literal truth by the majority of news outlets. Not familiar with JFK conspiracies, but even if a faked photograph did become widely accepted, the second point still stands - digital manipulation is faster, cheaper and more potentially more realistic. Which means fakery is far more available and widespread. That makes digital manipulation a new and worrying issue.

So be skeptical. Always.

No need to generalize. I generally trust a person or entity until they have betrayed that trust. I'm a usually trusting person, I just distrust the media.

DaveG said...

These recent incidents should wake us up and make us mistrust every photograph that is ever offered up as anything other than an imaginative illustration.

That should be easy since I already have a similar policy towards their written words.

ronbo said...

From a former lawyer, current ad guy, my .02 about the PS trademark: I think Dave made a good point in noting that it is easier to protect a mark against misuse by other companies vs. the general public. One reason, obviously, is the deeper pockets of a corporate defendant.

But a perhaps less obvious reason is the recognition that there is no benefit to trying to topple marks that are vulnerable only because of brand leadership. If I call my plastic bandages "band-aids", even adjectivally, I have done two things, both stupid: I have bought myself an expensive lawsuit, which I am not assured of winning; and I have publicly conceded the dominance of my competitor's brand. That's why I don't think anyone is likely to offer "photoshopping" software anytime soon.

On the substantive issue of Ann's post, I agree that there is a risk that the next photo will be photoshopped (bring it, Adobe!) more adroitly. What concerns me more is that so many media outlets are so invested in a particular narrative that reporters, photographers and editors naturally shape their work to conform with the percieved direction of the story. I don't think it's realistic to expect any journo to oppose the story the bosses are pushing. It's not a conspiracy, it's just human nature.

Daled Amos said...

But who says Reuters doctoring is limited to photos. Remember back in July 2003, Reuters took an article submitted to them by Deanna Wrenn about Jessica Lynch, completely changed the intent of the article, left a couple of sentences Wrenn's sentences in and gave it her byline. They refused to remove her byline even after numerous changes and all of her material was removed.
The question might not be what other photos have been doctored; the question instead might be what else besides photos have been doctored.

Ann Althouse said...

altoids: "I generally trust a person or entity until they have betrayed that trust"

And yet you are still alive?

El Presidente said...

Yezhov never existed.

El Presidente said...

If 50 years of dictatorial rule have taught me one thing it is never trust anyone.

Seven Machos said...

Bruce -- Have you ever used a Band-Aid or a Thermos? How about a Kleenex? Ever heard a Southerner ask, "What kind of Coke do you have?"

HD_Wanderer said...

Palladian said...
"The proffered excuse is laughable."

Exactly. The technique involved with dust removal is completly different than the technique used to alter the photo.

Seven Machos said...
"Bruce -- Have you ever used a Band-Aid or a Thermos? How about a Kleenex?"

My thoughts were similar. Ever used a Crescent wrench, how about making a xerox?

Palladian said...

HD Wanderer is right, if Hajj were just "fixing dust marks" he would probably use the healing brush, not the clone stamp tool in Photoshop (though he doesn't seem like the brightest bulb in the box). And I stand by my "poor lighting conditions" question. Poor lighting conditions from a computer monitor? "Oh, yeah, I turned the monitor brightness WAY down to keep Israeli reconnaissance planes from seeing it!"

Seven Machos said...

I would add that I'm sure Adobe is FURIOUS that its product has been shown to be good enough to fool editors at a large wire service. No one wants that kind of publicity for their product.

PatCA said...

This is only surprising because other instances of faking photos have been ignored by the media. I don't think this will continue in view of the enormity (and politically one-sided)of the current fakery. Just google Walski and doctored photo, and you can read about the LAT faking episode as well.

altoids1306 said...

And yet you are still alive?

Amazingly enough. A more accurate statement would be that I generally take people at face value. Obviously more caution is required if that person is in a position of coercive power.

The Drill SGT said...

a couple of observations:

1. Photoshopping can be detected. Staging photos in cooperation with one party or another is much more difficult for the blogoshere to detect. I think there is a lot of that going on. see point 2

2. The use of nearly anonymous stringers or freelance reporters/photogs in both Iraq or Lebanon is an ethical problem for News services. These people are incentatived financially to provide "hot" "provocative" photos and stories. Combined with the fact that access to the best photo sites is effectively limited to co-believers and collaborators. These folks have complete control of the MSM agenda.

ChrisO said...

Deanna Wren strikes me as a naive small town reporter. News services are constantly editing and updating stories as new information comes in. It stikes me that she was overly concerned about what the people in Jessica Lynch's hometown thought about her. Who's to say that she didn't slant her story to reflect that concern? Geez, editing goes on every day. It's not "altering" a story, and a reporter submitting a story to a news service doesn't have some kind of immunity from editing.

What's missing from the story is the fact that the Reuters editors had it right, and Jessica Lynch's story was in many ways a made for TV fiction. Wren was obviously upset that blowhards like Glen Beck were breathing down her neck, especially at a time during the war when any straying from the party line was being portrayed as treason. This doesn't reflect badly on Jessica Lynch, by the way, who as I recall repeatedly insisted that she had done nothing heroic.

I think the Dan Rather thing is the worst thing that could have happened to the blogosphere, not because of Rather's downfall, but because of the rampant speculation and conspiracy theories that plague the Internet every time some right wing blogger wants to try to be the new heroic investigative reporter. News services operate under tremendously tight deadlines, and are in a constant race to beat the competition. (As a matter of fact, I really believe that more of the errors we see result from the desire for the big scoop than any editorial bias.) News services have always depended on stringers and freelancers, and can have only so much control over them. When it was pointed out to Reuters that the photo appeared to be fake, they fired the photographer and pulled all of his photos. But apparently that's not doing the right thing, that's "throwing the photographer under the bus."

To me, exhibit A of the ridiculousness is Jim Miller's breathtakingly fact-free analysis that was linked here. The embodiment of the phrase "talk is cheap."

Bruce Hayden said...

ChrisO,

I am, of course, interested in what you think is inaccurate about Miller's piece. Some of it seems to make sense to me, but I am open to your pointing out where and why it is inaccurate.

ChrisO said...

Bruce

I didn't say Miller's piece was inaccurate. I said it was fact free. (Although his assertion that "Reuters is not planning, as far as I can tell, to investigate the other pictures they have gotten from Haqq" is probably undermined a bit by the fact that they have taken down all of Haqq's photos. Oops.)

The only facts that Miller presents are that Hezbolla controls Southern Lebanon, and that Reuters is reporting from Hezbolla held territory. You may notice that the entire scenario that follows, in which Hezbolla controls all of the news that comes from Southern Lebanon, is entirely unsupported by any facts. Perhaps Miller isn't aware of the fact that news organizations have been reporting from tightly controlled territories for decades. Does he really think this is the first time a news organization has had to deal with this?

Miller is assisted, of course, by his psychic ability to read the minds of the Reuters editors. He provides us with the insight that not only are the editors not going to investigate Haqq, but "That the photographs are often deceptive, and sometimes blatantly false, is something the people running Reuters don't even want to think about." It must really creep out the Reuters editors to know that Miller has the capability to actually read their minds.

I'm sure many people find Miller's post very persuasive, until they look for a single fact that suppoprts anything he's saying.

knoxgirl said...

ChrisO said: News services operate under tremendously tight deadlines, and are in a constant race to beat the competition. ...News services have always depended on stringers and freelancers, and can have only so much control over them.

Fair enough, Chris, and I am sure they would appreciate your more than generous evaluation of their product after this mess. But for my own part, I want bloggers to call this stuff to my attention, whatever their motivation. Your analysis of the Jessica Lynch thing suggests you think truth matters, so I would think you feel the same way.

But apparently not... you are more annoyed with the bloggers that called out Dan Rather instead of his shoddy standards of proof and authenticity. Better he had just been allowed to execute his quasi-October-Surprise with Microsoft Word documents from the 1970s?

knoxgirl said...

I guess my point is, other than politicians, there are few people we should have higher expectations of than the people who are paid to supply us with information ABOUT politicians and what they are doing with our country and the world.

Jack's Shack said...

The thing is that we are quickly heading towards a place where people may simply refuse to believe anything.

The middle ground is evaporating.

ChrisO said...

knoxgirl

It's clear that you are making some rather broad suppositions about my views, and reading them into my comments. First, I find it interesting that you refer to it as "this mess." If the photo was doctored, which seems to be the case, the photographer should be disciplined or fired and his other work closely examined, which appears to be what has happened. The only thing making it a "mess" is the hysterical reaction of the right wing blogosphere. It's like the baseball announcer who says in the first inning "It looks like the umpire got the call wrong," and by the third inning is referring to it as "the controversial call in the first inning." I have no problem with bloggers checking up on the news media and keeping them honest. My problem is with the lack of proportionality, in which every error (or even falsehood) uncovered by a blogger is treated with this triumphalistic air, in which the superiority of the blogosphere over the MSM has once again been demonstrated, and every mistake is another Rathergate.

So instead of calling out the Reuters editors for sloppy oversight of their photographers, or lax standards, this case is trumpeted as "proof" of the Reuters agenda, as demonstrated by Jim Miller's post.

And I think your reference to Rather's "October surprise" is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. The only evidence offered by the right wing blogosphere was about the veracity of the documents. Yet it has become conventional wisdom that Rather was "caught" trying to bring down Bush, with no thought to the possibility that his motivation was to be the first with an exclusive scoop. The coverage of the Swift Boat guys, combined with the failure of the media to ask a single tough question of Bush until they were sure it was safe, puts the lie to the notion that the MSM was invested in getting Kerry elected. The right wing blogs start with the baseline that the suppositions about Rather's (and the MSM's)agenda are proven fact, then view everything through that lens.

SteveR said...

"combined with the failure of the media to ask a single tough question of Bush until they were sure it was safe"

I think there is a Intro to Journalism guest lecturer spot open at UW, please apply to Provost Patrick Farrell.

knoxgirl said...

ChrisO,
If you don't think doctored photos are alarming in the times we are living in, I envy your equanimity... we're not talking about a baseball game. We're at war. Something like this most certainly qualifies as a "mess" and Reuters sure thought it bad enough to pull every one of this guy's photos.

I will grant you that there are bloggers who exploit these events simply to score one on the MSM. But there's a good number of us who want the media looked at critically and called on it when they make mistakes, errors or falsehoods--I'm using your words here.

As far as your complaint about right-wing blogs drawing right-wing conclusions, well... duh. You could find arguments on the other side that left-wing blogs read too much into Trent Lott's comments about Strom Thurmond, or Jeff Ganon's presence in the White House press room. Both sides are guilty of starting with a suspected agenda and working backwards.


SteveR, you picked up on that choice line and supplied a much more entertaining reply than mine would have been.