Skip to comments.'Fauxtographers' Get Smoked by the Blogosphere
Posted on 08/11/2006 4:04:16 AM PDT by Tom D.
Fauxtographers' Get Smoked by the Blogosphere By Jon Sanders
August 11, 2006
This week provided yet another example of the value of the blogosphere. On Saturday, August 5, the "Little Green Footballs" weblog (LGF) highlighted a Reuters photograph which "shows blatant evidence of manipulation ... repeating patterns in the smoke; this is almost certainly caused by using the Photoshop 'clone' tool to add more smoke to the image."
Untold numbers of bloggers investigated, and within hours Reuters had killed the photo. Shortly afterward, Reuters fired the photographer, Adnan Hajj, and removed all 920 images it had on file from Hajj.
That event seemed to be the turning point. Bloggers had already been questioning other "news" photos, such as the Associated Press' photos of cars and worse ambulances that supposedly had been struck by Israeli missiles but miraculously managed to survive with floors unpenetrated and the cars windows still intact. Reuters' admission, however, appeared to encourage bloggers further to scrutinize news services' images, hunting for more of what they had dubbed "fauxtography."
One blog even developed a handy guide to the four different types of photographic fraud being used: digital manipulation of images, pictures staged by the participants to seem spontaneous, pictures staged by the photographers themselves, and pictures given false captions.
A July 27 photograph carried in The New York Times showed a Lebanese man supposedly being pulled out from the rubble after an Israeli strike on the city of Tyre. The buried man's torso was free of dust, however, and he had a hat tucked in the crook of his arm. Bloggers soon spotted the same man in Tyler Hicks' other photos that day; the body "buried under the rubble" was participating in rescue efforts. On August 9, the Times issued a correction.
The cover photo on the July 31 issue of U.S. News and World Report depicted a "Hezbollah fighter" standing with a gun in front of a smoking heap. The image led readers to think he was near the site of an Israeli airstrike. The same day, Time magazine ran a similar photo of the same man and the same smoking wreck; Time identified it as "wreckage of a downed Israeli jet that was targeting Hizbullah trucks [which] billows smoke behind a Hizbullah gunman." The AP and Reuters (Hajj again) also ran photos of the gunman at the blaze.
"Lebanese TV stations broadcast video pictures Monday claiming to be an Israeli military aircraft falling to the ground in the area, but Israeli military said no aircraft was shot down over Beirut and there was no immediate confirmation of the cause of the explosion," the AP caption read. Reuters' caption read, "A Lebanese Hizbollah guerrilla aims his rifle as smoke rises from a burning object in a Beirut suburb, July 17, 2006. Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz said on Monday that no Israeli jet or helicopter had been shot down over Lebanon but did not rule out that a drone many have been downed."
Many bloggers and readers of blogs helped uncover the truth. The gunman was standing in front of a garbage dump. The heavy smoke was from burning tires.
Others among the myriad of fauxtographs uncovered this week there are too many to catalog here include the "green helmet man" who hoists children's bodies before the cameras at events he has staged (and has been doing it for ten years!), the "unluckiest woman in Beirut" who supposedly lost at least two homes to Israeli attacks in the past two weeks, and the girl "initially believed to have been killed by an Israeli military strike Wednesday," but who, the AP correction noted, "apparently died after sustaining head injuries during a fall from a swing in the same area shortly before the strike."
What is surprising about this controversy besides the obvious, that major news media are publishing fraudulent "news" photos is how quickly the frauds are being discovered once theyve passed the editors' desks. This speed and superior insight differentiate the blogosphere from the old model of news delivery and journalism. They are elements of a generational change in technology that has rendered the old model obsolete.
Transaction costs and the old media
In the old model, if you wished to know the news of the day, you either put yourself through J-school and became a journalist yourself, or you avoided incurring those huge costs (not just tuition and fees, but also the opportunity costs of those paths not taken) and relied on daily newspapers, nightly news programs, and later all-day cable news channels.
If you, through your own particular experience and knowledge, saw something on the news that you knew was impossible or incorrect, your responses were basically limited to letters to editors and calls to station managers; meanwhile, days could pass without the correction being made known. If you had only passing interest in the news, you couldn't be enticed even to spend the time writing the letters or looking up the phone numbers.
In other words, the costs to you as an informed citizen to get involved were entirely too prohibitive, and the expected benefits rather iffy. Prior to the Internet, it was just too costly in terms of time and resources for very smart people in other fields than journalism to pursue a question of interest to them, even if they had particular knowledge concerning it.
But the Internet with its blog sites, political discussion forums, search engines, and so forth have reduced those transaction costs to virtually nil so that, for example, someone who has particular knowledge of the lack of superscripting capabilities of typewriters used by the National Guard in the 1970s could expose a hoax that had slipped past producers for a major news program, and do it so quickly that it stopped the hoax before it could wreak damage.
The Internet has also made it much easier and far less costly for smart people in other fields to analyze and comment on the news of the day. An individual's expectations for involving himself were completely inverted: the expected costs fell to almost nothing, while the expected benefits became immediate and could possibly involve making a national impact. Quite frequently, individuals with analytical skills honed in serious fields bring about more cogent analyses than would otherwise be available to their fellow news consumers.
This is not at all, of course, to suggest that all bloggers are credible sources the blogosphere is also chockablock with barking mad ravers. But the same individual search for truth that inspires many intelligent people to look beyond the curtains of the great Oz of the old media keeps them skeptical of their peers, too, testing other bloggers' claims and offering verification or refutation and passing their verdicts along.
By that same process, individual blog sites are building reputations for themselves, and those becoming known for excellent analysis and insight attract readers who can themselves provide immediate commentary on their posts. Not infrequently, readers' contributions overshadow the original post as happened with LGF and others' questions about the photographs.
This low-cost, real-time connection of news with individuals scattered over the world especially individuals with unique knowledge about aspects of the news that otherwise couldn't have been brought to the fore (let alone quickly) and who develop the story even as they consume it is a revolution in news reporting and the search for truth.
It is the triumph of the individual over bureaucracy, brought about by technological change and the massive reduction in transaction costs. How the old media will react and adapt to this new environment is still in question. But at least this time Reuters, The New York Times, the AP et al. haven't resorted to the old "fake but accurate" justification.
In which case it is exactly like the TV news industry for the past 50 years. The difference is that everybody knows it now.
The triumph of individual liberty (goal of democracy) over totalitarian media (goal of terrorism).
Just one more demonstration of the rampant journalistic fraud that has gone unchallenged for decades.
Good article. Thanks for the post.
Bloggers who make mistakes are immediately corrected in this new model. So even if there are a lot of crazies in the blogosphere, they're almost immediately corrected and the end result is a far more accurate picture, so long as you don't mind sifting through the fall out.
Photos like this one show the manufactured, dishonest nature of media "news." How anyone can look at newspapers and TV news, much less TRUST it, is beyond my imagining.
Mmmmm, chocolate block.
When some fakers get caught & their techniques exposed, others will learn how to improve their product.
James Nachtwey (center, in white shirt), is an excellent and highly awarded news photographer - e.g., Magazine Photographer of the Year seven times - so it must be an embarrassment to see himself in that photo.
Only in the sense that he got caught in the act. They know no shame. They don't even know that this is wrong. To them, this is the essence of "journalism." They are ideological warriors and the news is their weapon to shape public opinion and increase their power.