Monday, August 07, 2006

Reuters: In Focus

If you don't stay as connected to the Internet as some of us who are more emotionally Net dependent, you may not be aware of the latest controversy sweeping the blogosphere, especially if you get most of your news from more traditional sources. The mainstream media is largely ignoring this story. In the past few days, there's been a swarm of bloggers, starting with Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, and including an army of Photoshop experts with Internet access, exposing a Reuters photo from the conflict in Lebanon that has clearly been doctored. Even my pathetically untrained eyes can see the obvious use of the Photoshop clone device, clumsily employed to ramp up the smoke content in a post-bomb image and change the building landscape (possibly to make the area look more populated.)

The photographer who snapped the image, Adnan Hajj, is a stringer from Lebanon, freelancing the Israeli/Lebanese war. Some of his other photos have been questioned recently as well, specifically about whether pictures taken after Israel bombed Qana were staged. Reuters stood by their man when these initial questions arose, pooh-poohing the possibility that anything could slip by their guard, or that their man wasn't completely bias free, but finally made the decision to take him off their payroll, with the obvious Photoshop manipulation coming to light via the ever watchful blogosphere. Since then, the story has progressed, and another "shopped" Hajj photo has been discovered. Reuters responded by removing all 900 or so of Hajj's pics from their archives. (He's freelanced for them for several years.)

Michelle Malkin made an interesting point this morning. She thinks that Reuters is making a mistake by taking down all the photos completely. She suggests that they set up a special site taking advantage of the expertise available online, and let the citizen swarm loose to examine the rest of this photographer's work. I agree. How much visual misinformation has been purveyed by this "photojournalist," and others? During a war it's pretty important to be able to trust what you see and read. Riots have been caused in the Middle East by cartoons, for pity's sake--what damage can an altered photograph do? I shudder to think of all the pictorial hoaxes that may have been perpetrated on the unwary masses, by more skillful Shoppers, in this age of digital dupery. At the very least, Reuters needs to establish some stringent, and publicly confirmable, editorial processes to ensure that people can trust what Reuters passes out as news. If Reuters is smart, they will be as open and cooperative with bloggers as possible, or risk losing more of their credibility by duck and cover tactics.

Pajamas Media has a healthy roundup of news and blog links, as does the Malkin link above, and the Little Green Footballs link leads to the blog that started it all. (LGF was also the blog that outed the Rathergate memos as being fake.) This may not seem like a big deal to you, but this is turning into a huge deal in the blog world. There is ongoing criticism from the mainstream media that blogs lack editorial safeguards and therefore are less trustworthy than traditional journalistic sources. Bloggers counter that the blogosphere is itself a giant editorial machine, and lies don't hold up long under the continued scrutiny of millions of blogger fact-checkers. Reuters' accuracy checking isn't looking very shiny right now, and the ability of Internet experts in a myriad of disciplines to check for errors in the news of the day is looking awfully helpful when the MSM systems break down. Neither the MSM nor the blogosphere can replace one another, but the two of them keeping tabs on each other, that could be the best of both worlds.

Update: Here's an interesting look at the photo editing process, from National Journal. This one again confirms to me that the MSM and blogosphere ought to be checking on each other in a cooperative and helpful way--not playing "gotcha," but willing to look at each other's evidence if the truth of a report or photo is in question. The piece also talks about the use of photo fakery from the other side of the GWOT, including photographic "evidence" purporting to show American soldiers raping Iraqi women. Sobering the way pictures can be manipulated. Makes me think of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. What is it--64,000 repititions make a truth?

Update II: Michelle Malkin's looking at further examples of misleading media, including innacurate captioning and staged photos. It ain't just Reuters that has a problem with keeping things straight photographically. The New York Times, Time and U.S. News & World Report join the list, and boy howdy is the blogosphere on the hunt now. That's good, if you ask me. With Israel being hammered for its response to Hezbollah attacks, it would be nice to be sure that the info coming out of the war zone is something close to right. There have been some darn suspicious death counts and really odd photo coincidences--like the lady who apparently lost more than one house in one of Israel's attacks in Beirut, judging by the fact she shows up grieving their loss at a couple of locations throughout the area. (It could be more a captioning problem than a photographic one.) I know that sometimes in the Middle East they hire professional mourners, but I didn't know they went to the trouble for lost property.