August 12, 2006

INFAMOUS PHOTOSHOPPERS:

Lebanon photos: Take a closer look (Tim Rutten, August 12, 2006, LA Times)

There are, however, two problems here, and they're the reason this controversy shouldn't be allowed to sputter to its inglorious conclusion just yet: One of these has to do with the scope of what strongly appears to be wider fabrication in the photojournalism Reuters and other news agencies are obtaining from their freelancers in Lebanon. The other is the U.S. news media's grudging response to the revelation of Hajj's misconduct and its utter lack of interest in exploring whether his is a unique or representative case.

Thus far, only a handful of relatively brief stories on this affair have appeared in major American papers. The Times picked up one from the Washington Post, which focused mainly on the politics of Johnson's website. The New York Times, which ran one of Hajj's photos on its front page Saturday, reported that it has published eight of his pictures since 2003, but none were altered. It then went on to quote other papers about steps they take to detect fraudulent images. No paper has taken up the challenge of determining whether there's anything dodgy about the flow of freelance photos Reuters and other news agencies — including the Associated Press, which also transmitted images made by Hajj — are sending out of tormented Lebanon.

Johnson is co-founder with mystery novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon of another online site, http://www.pajamas media.com. It aggregates mostly right wing blogs from around the world and has ambitions as a politically inflected alternative news source. It's worth taking the time to go there and to click on the link giddily labeled "Reutersgate." Make what you will of the analysis, much of which is feverish, sneering and tending toward the mechanistically conspiratorial. What's hard to imagine is how anybody can look at the photos and not conclude that they're riddled with journalistic deceit.

Many, including grisly images from the Qana tragedy, clearly are posed for maximum dramatic effect. There is an entire series of photos of children's stuffed toys poised atop mounds of rubble. All are miraculously pristinely clean and apparently untouched by the devastation they purportedly survived. (Reuters might want to check its freelancers' expenses for unexplained Toys R Us purchases.) In some cases, the bloggers seem to have uncovered the same photographer using more than one identity. There's an improbable photo by Hajj of a Koran burning atop the rubble of a building supposedly destroyed by an Israeli aircraft hours before. Nothing else in sight is alight. (With photos, as in life, when something seems too perfect to be true, it's almost always because it is.) In other photos, the same wrecked building is portrayed multiple times with the same older woman — one supposes she ought to be called a model — either lamenting its destruction or passing by in different costumes.

There's more, and it's worth your time to take a look. That's one of the undeniable strengths of the Internet and of the blogosphere, and the fact that it is being employed to help keep journalism honest ultimately is to everybody's benefit.

What the major news organizations ought to be doing is to make their own analysis of the images coming out of Lebanon and if, as seems more than likely, they find widespread malfeasance, some hard questions need to be asked about why it occurred. Some of it may stem from the urge every photographer feels to make a photo perfect. Some of it probably flows from a simple economic imperative — a freelancer who produces dramatic images gets picked up more and paid more. Moreover, the obscenely anti-Israeli tenor of most of the European and world press means there's an eager market for pictures of dead Lebanese babies.


If the mainstream media were to examine its biases and do something about them it would cease to exist. Far better to just wear them on its sleeve. Reuters should simply make it clear that its "news" is colored by an anti-Israeli/anti-American animus and let consumers decide whether that's what they want to be fed. No one ought to expect a journalist to be impartial, but we are entitled to know who and what they're partial towards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2006 2:27 PM
Comments

Exactly. The pretense of objectivity is what sticks in the craw.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 12, 2006 2:58 PM
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