Skip to comments.Photojournalism in Crisis (Dinosaur Media DeathWatch™)
Posted on 08/18/2006 7:49:13 AM PDT by abb
Amid the controversy over certain pictures from Lebanon, a longtime student of war photography asks, "I'm not sure if the craft I love is being murdered, committing suicide, or both."
By David D. Perlmutter
(August 18, 2006) -- The Israeli-Hezbollah war has left many dead bodies, ruined towns, and wobbling politicians in its wake, but the media historian of the future may also count as one more victim the profession of photojournalism. In twenty years of researching and teaching about the art and trade and doing photo-documentary work, I have never witnessed or heard of such a wave of attacks on the people who take news pictures and on the basic premise that nonfiction news photo- and videography is possible.
I'm not sure, however, if the craft I love is being murdered, committing suicide, or both.
Perhaps it would be more reassuring if the enemy at the gates was a familiar onepoliticians, or maybe radio talk show hosts. But the photojournalist standing on the crumbling ramparts of her once proud citadel now sees the vandal army charging for the sack led by zombietime, The Jawa Report, Powerline, Little Green Footballs, confederateyankee, and many others.
In each case, these bloggers have engaged in the kind of probing, contextual, fact-based (if occasionally speculative) media criticism I have always asked of my students. And the results have been devastating: news photos and video shown to be miscaptioned, radically altered, or staged (and worse, re-staged) for the camera. Surely green helmet guy, double smoke, the missiles that were actually flares, the wedding mannequin from nowhere, the magical burning Koran, the little girl who actually fell off a swing and keep filming! will now enter the pantheon of shame of photojournalism.
A few photo-illusions are probably due to the lust for the most sensational or striking-looking imagethat is, more aesthetic bias than political prejudice. Also, many photographers know that war victims are money shots and some will break the rules of the profession to cash in. But true as well is that local stringers and visiting anchors alike seem to have succumbed either to lens-enabled Stockholm syndrome or accepted being the uncredited Hezbollah staff photographer so as to be able to file stories and images in militia-controlled areas.
It does not help that certain news organizations have acted like government officials or corporate officers trying to squash a scandal. The visual historian in me revolts when an ABC producer informs me that Reuters deleted all 920 images by the stringer who produced the Beirut double smoke image and is less than willing to talk about it. Can you say 18-minute gap, anyone?
There is one great irony here. From a historical perspective, this is the golden age of photojournalistic ethics. In previous eras wild retouching, rearranging, cutting of images and even staging and restaging of events for the camera were commonly accepted in the trade. As someone who has written a history of images of war, I can testify there is more honesty in war photography today than ever in the past in any medium or any war--but there is, of course, much more scrutiny as well.
The main point is that we are now at a social, political and technological crossroads for mediaamateur, industrial, and all points and persons in between. First, we live in Photoshop-CGI culture. People are accustomed to watching the amazing special effects of modern movies, where it seems any scene that can be imagined can be pixilated into appearing photorealistic. On our desktop, many of us are photoshopping our lives, manipulating family photos with ease.
In addition, in a digital-Internet-satellite age, any image on the Web can be altered by anyone into any new image and there is no original, as in a negative, to prove which was first. The icons are sacred no longer. Finally, there are the bloggers: the visual or word journalist is not only overseen by a familiar hierarchy of editors or producers but by many independents who will scan, query, trade observations, and blast what they think is an error or manipulation to the entire world.
News picture-making media organizations have two paths of possible response to this unnerving new situation. First, they can stonewall, deny, delete, dismiss, counter-slur, or ignore the problem. To some extent, this is what is happening now and, ethical consideration aside, such a strategy is the practical equivalent of taking extra photos of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The second, much more painful option, is to implement your ideals, the ones we still teach in journalism school. Admit mistakes right away. Correct them with as much fanfare and surface area as you devoted to the original image. Create task forces and investigating panels. Dont delete archives but publish them along with detailed descriptions of what went wrong. Attend to your critics and diversify the sources of imagery, or better yet be brave enough to refuse to show any images of scenes in which you are being told what to show. I would even love to see special inserts or mini-documentaries on how to spot photo bias or photo fakeryin other words, be as transparent, unarrogant, and responsive as you expect those you cover to be.
The stakes are high. Democracy is based on the premise that it is acceptable for people to believe that some politicians or news media are lying to them; democracy collapses when the public believes that everybody in government and the press is lying to them.
And what of future victims of war? Will the public deny them their sorrows because we will dismiss all smoking rubble and dead children as mere digital propaganda?
Photojournalism must live, but not if its practitioners and owners are determined to jump into the abyss.
David D. Perlmutter (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies & Research at the University of Kansas¿s School of Journalism & Mass Communications. He is author of "Visions of War, Photojournalism and Foreign Policy," and a book of documentary photography, Policing the Media."
We need to ping the guy who kept up with all this a couple of weeks ago? Pajama something...
"The icons are sacred no longer. Finally, there are the bloggers: the visual or word journalist is not only overseen by a familiar hierarchy of editors or producers but by many independents who will scan, query, trade observations, and blast what they think is an error or manipulation to the entire world.
News picture-making media organizations have two paths of possible response to this unnerving new situation. First, they can stonewall, deny, delete, dismiss, counter-slur, or ignore the problem. To some extent, this is what is happening now and, ethical consideration aside, such a strategy is the practical equivalent of taking extra photos of the deck chairs on the Titanic."
Martin, this is the perfect place for your Titantic graphic arts.
PajamaTruthMafia, see what you have started and contributed to. Great Job!
The first Photoshop war [doctored photos could be harbinger of crisis]
Ynet News ^ | 8/17/06 | Gal Mor
Posted on 08/17/2006 12:20:29 PM PDT by PajamaTruthMafia
The first Photoshop war
Lebanon war's doctored photos could be harbinger of photojournalism crisis Gal Mor
The photo of an apparently new Mickey Mouse doll, resting on a ruined street in the Lebanese town of Tyre following an Israeli Air Force attack, took me back to a British TV show called "Drop the Dead Monkey," which aired in Israel about 15 years ago.
One of the journalists in Channel 4's satirical show used to hang around battle zones with a teddy bear in his trunk and place it at disaster zones a short time before cameras began shooting, in order to boost the dramatic effect.
I have no intention of doubting the integrity of photojournalists, most of whom work hard and risk their lives, but two cases exposed by bloggers during the second Lebanon War require us to resort to healthy skepticism.
The Reuters affair
Earlier this month, Reuters admitted that a photo by Lebanese photographer Adnan Hajj underwent improper treatment using graphic editing software. In another case of a photo showing an Israeli aircraft firing "missiles," it turned out those were flares and that this photo was also doctored by using a computer.
Both editing jobs were exposed by Charles Johnson, one of the owners of the Little Green Footballs blog.
Another photo showed a doll dressed in a clean wedding gown in front of a razed home. Another two photographs distributed in July and August showed a woman crying after her home was destroyed twice in the space of two weeks. Yet another photo published in a newspaper showed what appears as bodies covered by white sheets, yet one of the bodies is sitting in a completely lively pose.
Another man who played a starring role in the blogs is Salam Daher, who heads civilian rescue operations in Tyre. Daher, labeled "Green Helmet Guy," is shown in 2006 and 1996 photographs following Air Force attacks on the village of Qana. AP strongly denied the photos were staged and even published a special photo of Daher (wearing a blue helmet) and explained who he was.
All this does not contradict the fact Daher repeatedly waved the bodies of children before the cameras (at times using the same body at different poses), while the photographers photographed.
Digital forgery has become norm
We can assume the Mickey Mouse photo is completely genuine, but we may still wonder whether the doll was placed in the area following the bombing. The Adnan Hajj affair shows that today there's no longer a need to stage photos. Instead, we can modify them using powerful graphic tools such as Photoshop.
Indeed, digital forgery has become the norm. Anyone who has met celebrities up close knows that at time the difference between them in reality and their faces, as modified by Photoshop and appearing on magazine covers, is rather significant.
The New Scientist reported this month that an algorithm developed by researcher Tommer Leyvand from Tel Aviv University can easily make people look more beautiful through an instant change of hundreds of facial features.
Charles Johnson and his friends at Little Green Footballs hold on to clear conservative political positions, yet their skepticism helps truth-seekers wherever they are and serves the press.
Even though dozens of channels and hundreds of news websites provide a sense of media pluralism, most of the photos and video stories from battle zones are distributed by a small number of news agencies: AP, Reuters, and AFP.
Just when visual broadcasting means (photos, video) are peaking, in the backdrop we can see emerging photojournalism's big crisis. Although Reuters was quick to announce it will make reviews of Middle East photos stricter, such doctored photo cases may indeed repeat in growing frequency, with forgers improving their tactics.
A photo will no longer be worth a thousand words
We're not only talking about a fundamental ethical problem that is only of interest to professionals. In the short run, the doctored photos may serve to dramatize Lebanese suffering and display the destruction sowed by Israel in Lebanon as greater in scope than it really is.
Yet over time, the weak party to the war will pay the price for the forgery, after human sensitivity to its pain will be dulled. This is tragic because the Lebanese people did suffer in the last war and many experienced genuine, non-doctored bereavement and destruction.
In the future, even when genuine photos from wars will be distributed, it's likely that the other side will plant changes in them and redistribute them in order to undermine their credibility and make audiences doubt them, as part of a propaganda war.
Once those insights are internalized, and the general public knows that it can no longer believe what it sees, a photo will no longer be worth a thousand words it won't even be worth one word.
Hard to believe E&P ran with this story. Unfortunately, they are ignoring the 800lb gorilla. The NEWS STORIES are faked far worse than the photos. Having a micki mouse suddenly appear in a rubble heap is a minor sin compared to the WaPostNYTimesCNNMSNBCCBSLATIMESBOSTONGLOBEABCNPRAPREUTERS lies splashing daily across the headlines.
Translation: the pajama militia is doing the job journalists are supposed to do, but, in their zeal to SELL a story instead of TELL a story, are neglecting.
It can't come as any surprise to anyone that when a craft whose stock in trade is credibility loses that due to prejudice and a lack of professionalism, the craft suffers. Maybe if a few more editors fired a few more biased journalists, and a few more publishers fired a few more biased editors, and a few more stockholders fired a few more biased publishers, journalism would regain the public's trust.
Well, to most of the public photographers and reporters are BOTH journalists. (The news agency always tags the name of the paper or agency to the photo, which is good.)
Sooo, yes, many of the stories are faked, but showing a faked picture makes the point for us far easier than pointing out the errors and lies in a story. It's right there where anyone in the public can understand it...and understand it quickly.
It's going to be a lot easier to convince people of the bias in the media with these pictures. They have shot themselves in the foot once again. HA!
The disturbing make believe photos from this disturbing make believe event are shown below. Dont allow children under the age of 30 to view this horror caused by Israel. Of course, this is Bush's fault.
No Problem! Here comes your Bomb!
Patience, ant. We've waited 50 years to put these bastards in their place. We're getting there now, though. And they're dying hard - suffering, moaning, in pain....
"God I love it. I do love it so." George S. Patton
Have they heard of Digital Cameras? They can download or ship pictures at the speed of light.
Agreed. It's important. But so is FR, Newsbusters, Talk Radio and the blogs pointing out the daily malfeasance of the written and broadcast news. It's a fight we are winning, slowly, as the MSM is continuing to lose all credibility.
I'm patient. The thumbscrews are turning.
Man, that post had some of the funniest pictures I have ever seen. I literally had tears streaming down my face I was laughing so hard!
In the Media Era, politics were national and often planetary. But standing between you and the public audience were the gatekeepers who determined the agenda. Poisoned milk in Peoria? If Dan Rather didn't schedule five minutes for it, it didn't happen. Vietnam protestors? Walter Kronkite says that it gets fifteen minutes, at the top of the show. Castro kills and murders? Uncle Fidel's not getting slandered on this news report!
Enter the Internet, and the Old Ways have been blown to hell. In the truest expression of democracy, $25 for a site name buys you the biggest printingpress in the world (long as you pay the hosting fees.) And barring that, FR and other chat sites are potentially free (in the short run.) Like the Revolutionary era pamphleteers, we can once again stand in the village square and shout "That's not right!" The hallowed "fact-checking" function of the news reporter, long buryed under inches of bias-dust at the networks, has been taken over by the commoners.
And boy, are the Gatekeepers p!$$ed. The "little people" out there in the flyover states have forgotten where they fit in the food chain, and are getting uppity. Don't they know that Hollywood and New York and all the flashy News-a-tainment people are supposed to tell them what to believe?
Every man a king. And it all came out of Arpnet, a system designed to let the military and higher education share data between nodes. You gotta laugh sometimes.
Reuters and the other Islamofascist loving MSM organizations may have injected themselves with a fatal infection with the fauxtography and staged photos in Lebanon.
In the meantime, we can have a lot of fun at their expense and with humor destroy any faux credibility the MSM might have.
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