Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reuterization

OK, so some people are burying their heads in the sand on this (cue Reuters headline "Israel leaves decapitated shills in desert"), so here's a proper synopsis, courtesy of the nice folks at Zombietime.

Reuters Commits Four Types of Fraud

An overview of the photo hoaxes committed by Reuters, discovered so far

The recent discovery that the Reuters news agency released a digitally manipulated photograph as an authentic image of the bombing in Beirut has drawn attention to the important topic of bias in the media. But lost in the frenzy over one particular image is an even more devastating fact: that over the last week Reuters has been caught red-handed in an astonishing variety of journalistic frauds in the photo coverage of the war in Lebanon.

This page serves as an overview of the various types of hoaxes, lies and other deceptions perpetrated by Reuters in recent days, since the details of the scandal are getting overwhelmed by a torrent of shallow mainstream media coverage that can easily confuse or mislead the viewer. Almost all of the investigative work has been done by cutting-edge blogs, but the proliferation of exposés might overwhelm the casual Web-surfer, who might be getting the various related scandals mixed up. In this essay I hope to straighten it all out.



It's important to understand that there is not just a single fraudulent Reuters photograph, nor even only one kind of fraudulent photograph. There are in fact dozens of photographs whose authenticity has been questioned, and they fall into four distinct categories.

The four types of photographic fraud perpetrated by Reuters photographers and editors are:

1. Digitally manipulating images after the photographs have been taken.

2. Photographing scenes staged by Hezbollah and presenting the images as if they were of authentic spontaneous news events.

3. Photographers themselves staging scenes or moving objects, and presenting photos of the set-ups as if they were naturally occurring.

4. Giving false or misleading captions to otherwise real photos that were taken at a different time or place.


All of these forms of fraud have the same intent: to serve as propaganda for Hezbollah, and to make the Israeli attacks look as brutal as possible. And, taken together, they raise a very serious question: can any of the coverage by the entrenched media by trusted?

Let's examine each type of fraud, with the photographic evidence itself:

1. Digitally manipulating images after the photographs have been taken.

This is what has been getting the majority of coverage in the media, because it is the most clear-cut -- even if the actual significance or newsworthiness of the photos involved is not particularly great.


This is the fraudulent photo that has gotten by far the most coverage. This hoax was first exposed on August 5 by Little Green Footballs, when a reader named "Mike" pointed out the photo to LGF's Charles Johnson, who incontrovertibly demonstrated that the image had been altered using the Photoshop "clone" tool. For more info, click on the link above; this case has also been covered extensively throughout the mediasphere.


This is an untouched version of the original photo before it was digitally altered. Reuters released it on August 6 when they admitted the doctored photo was indeed fraudulent, and announced they were no longer going to work with Adnan Hajj, the photographer who had Photoshopped the image. No word on what punishment the editors who released the obviously fake photo to the world would receive. Hajj used the Photoshop "clone" tool to copy portions of the smoke-column and repeatedly paste it into the sky, to make the smoke look larger and darker -- though his manipulations really didn't change the effect of the photo to any great degree. His claims that he accidentally added the extra smoke when he was merely trying to remove some dust flecks from the picture are so absurd as to barely even merit comment.


The other instance of digital photo doctoring was discovered by Rusty Shackleford at The Jawa Report on August 6. The original Reuters caption for this photo was "An Israeli F-16 warplane fires missiles during an air strike on Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon." As Shackleford pointed out, first of all, those are not missiles depicted in the photo -- they're defensive flares. But more importantly, the photo had been doctored to show three flares, when in fact there had only been one.


This image, also shown on the Jawa Report, demonstrates that the clone tool had again been used to copy portions of the photo and paste them in repeatedly elsewhere. In this case, the trails of one flare were copied and lengthened to make it look like there had been three flares. Click on the link above for a detailed explanation and several more photos proving the case. The photo-hoaxster in this instance was again Adnan Hajj, proving beyond doubt that he was very familiar with how to alter images in Photoshop. Ynet News featured an article on this photo manipulation as well.

After the public outcry over the obviously fake photos, Reuters fired Adnan Hajj and pulled all his photos from distribution, admitting that both photos were doctored. They made no mention of how or why their editors allowed fake photos to be released as real news, perhaps hoping that the firing of Hajj would put an end to the scandal. But Photoshopping images was only one of several ways in which Reuters has committed journalistic fraud during the war in Lebanon.

2. Photographing scenes staged by Hezbollah and presenting the images as if they were of authentic spontaneous news events.

This is where the Reuters scandal started: with bloggers noticing that some of the images showing the aftermath of the July 30 air raid on Qana looked fishy. There are by now dozens of different photographs from that day whose authenticity has been seriously questioned, so all I can present here is a small representative sample.


The first series that raised suspicions was this one, pointed out at many blogs, of a green-helmeted "rescue worker" who seems to parade around with the corpse of a child for an extended period of time. The blog EU Referendum had the most complete photo series compilation, showing that each image individually might be accepted as an unposed authentic news photo, but that when one considers all the photos taken that day by Reuters, AP, and Agence France Presse, it becomes obvious that the entire scene was some kind of gruesome theater performance, apparently with actors posing as rescue workers parading around with a few corpses, seemingly posing for the cameras instead of evacuating the bodies as efficiently as possible.


EU Referendum pointed out that if the time stamps on the photos are taken at face value, then the rescue operation becomes even more farcical, with bodies unnecessarily put on display for hours, though the news agencies later claimed that the time stamps do not necessarily reflect the actual time each photo was taken. Lost in the argument over this detail is the fact that the photos were widely doubted even before the time stamp issue, and that even a casual glance at the photo series from Reuters and the other agencies reveals that, in whatever order they were taken, the images seem to reveal at the very least a partly staged scenario, in which unprofessional "rescue workers" seem more concerned with how they and the bodies appear on camera than they do with conducting an actual rescue operation. These doubts were compounded when additional photos of the mysterious "Mr. Green Helmet" were found from other rescue operations in other parts of Lebanon (such as here, for example), at which he similarly seemed to pose for the camera. Many bloggers speculated that he is in fact a Hezbollah "set designer" and media relations officer whose job it is to milk maximum propaganda value from each photo opportunity, with the cooperation of willing photographers, who must witness his shenanigans in person, but not report on them. Ynet News had an excellent article summarizing the different aspects of the Qana photo opportunity.


Another bit of possible staging was uncovered by Cathy Brooks, a reader of Power Line in a series of photos also taken by Hajj and released by Reuters. As the full series of photos displayed at Power Line shows, what are supposed to be real-time shots of "citizens" running across the Qasmiya Bridge, which had been damaged by Israel, must in fact be something else altogether. For not only are the two men running pointlessly back and forth across the same bridge, but one of them magically becomes a "civil defense worker" in the next caption.


But things start to get completely bizarre when in a later photo, the exact same damaged car seems to be quite a distance away, once again on its roof (and notice the other photographer taking a close-up of the car). However, Seerak, an astute photo expert on Little Green Footballs, pointed out in this detailed comment that the photographer may been been alternating between powerful telephoto and wide-angle lenses, which produce only the appearance of the car being moved. If so, then this example belongs more in the "false and misleading captions" section than in this section. The foreshortening is so extreme that it's hard to believe it could be produced simply by different lenses, but it may be possible.

Power Line's analysis finishes with a final photograph of a completely different damaged bridge, which is also identified as the Qasmiya Bridge. The only conclusion one can reach upon seeing these images is that the entire scenario on the first bridge is a fabrication, that the "citizens" are being stage managed to run back and forth, and that the bridge in question was just a convenient theatrical set for the photo shoot, and probably wasn't even the bridge named in the caption.

Incredibly, in response to the initial questions about the Qana pictures, Reuters issued a statement that completely denied any of its photos were staged, stating, "Reuters and other news organisations reviewed those images and have all rejected allegations that the photographs were staged." But their denial has fallen on deaf ears in the blogosphere, as more and more seemingly staged photos are discovered every day.

3. Photographers themselves staging scenes or moving objects, and presenting photos of the set-ups as if they were naturally occurring.

Many bloggers have stated that some photo-stringers in Lebanon are not merely willing dupes for Hezbollah propagandists, but occasionally even participate in the staging of scenes themselves. Though this form of fraud is much more difficult to prove, several examples have cropped up of vignettes that just seemed "too good to be true" for them to be naturally occurring scenes.


This Reuters image, for example, which was found in various media outlets (and preserved on the Bagel Blogger site), came with this caption: "A mannequin adorned with a wedding dress stands near the site of an Israeli air raid in Qana July 31, 2006, where more than 54 women and children were killed a day earlier. REUTERS/Sharif Karim (LEBANON)." C'mon -- an explosion large enough to knock down a building happened just a few yards away, and an entire day has passed with hundreds of rescuers and media members and everyone else running around, and after all that, a mannequin in a wedding dress is discovered standing right next to the bomb site, as if posing in front of the wreckage? And that no one noticed it until then? A much more likely explanation is that the photographer -- or someone helping him -- found the mannequin elsewhere, and placed it exactly where he wanted for that "perfect shot."

Dozens of blogs have pointed out similar questions about other artificial-seeming scenes that smacked of the photographers' handiwork. The most comical of these is "The Passion of the Toys" at Slublog:



All of these pictures were taken by Reuters photographers in Lebanon, except for the first Mickey Mouse image which was taken by an AP photographer. While it may be possible that these photographers all just happened to stumble on toys and stuffed animals perfectly positioned for maximum emotive response, the cumulative effect of all the pictures together (along with others visible on Slublog) suggests that some if not all of the photographers moved the toys to be better positioned for a good photo.

But this is not a definitely conclusive example of fraud -- it's almost impossible to prove that a photographer moved an object to his benefit. Instead, the images just feel faked.

4. Giving false or misleading captions to otherwise real photos that were taken at a different time or place.


Power Line again drew attention to another form of photojournalistic fraud, this time possibly committed by the Reuters editors themselves. This photo, as Power Line pointed out, was captioned, ""Journalists are shown by a Hizbollah guerrilla group the damage caused by Israeli attacks on a Hizbollah stronghold in southern Beirut, July 24 2006. (Adnan Hajj/Reuters)." But look at the next photo below.


Here, the caption says, "A Lebanese woman looks at the sky as she walks past a building flattened during an overnight Israeli air raid on Beirut's suburbs August 5, 2006. (Adnan Hajj/Reuters)." But a cursory glance shows that it's the exact same destroyed buildings in both photos. If they were already destroyed on July 24, they couldn't have been destroyed on August 5, especially since the damage is identical in both pictures. It's quite obvious that photos of the same scene were re-released to make it appear as if Israeli bombing raids were continuously hitting Beirut, when in fact Reuters was just recycling the same damage over and over.

Further demolishing the credibility of this photograph is yet a different image of the same woman by AFP, this time "inspecting the destruction," in a scene in which she is obviously cooperating with the photographer -- contradicting the implication of the Reuters photo in which she is supposed to be just a passerby.

But, as was revealed in this article on The Shape of Days site, captions for news photos are mostly written by the editorial staff, with the photographer supplying only the basic facts. It was up to the Reuters editors to properly caption this photo, and if it was misattributed, it is entirely their responsibility.


In the next example, as discovered by the Drinking from Home blog, a Lebanese woman somehow had her house destroyed twice, two weeks apart, by the Israelis. In this first photo, Reuters claims, "A Lebanese woman wails after looking at the wreckage of her apartment, in a building, that was demolished by the Israeli attacks in southern Beirut July 22, 2006. REUTERS/Issam Kobeisi."


But wait! Here she is again, in a photo supplied by AP: "A Lebanese woman reacts at the destruction after she came to inspect her house in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2006, after Israeli warplanes repeatedly bombed the area overnight." As Drinking from Home points out, it's definitely the same woman. The photo captions, supplied by two different news agencies, contradict each other. Which leads one to question whether the woman had anything to do with the building at all, or if she was just asked to pose in front of it for drama's sake. Either way, the editor's captions are necessarily untrue, since her home obviously couldn't have been demolished twice. The photos may or may not be authentic, but at least one of the captions is a falsehood.


These pictures of a Hezbollah gunman -- as pointed out by Hot Air, jester_6 and Riehl World View -- not only appeared on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, but was captioned, "A Hezbollah gunman aims his AK 47 at a fire caused by an explosion in Kfarshima, near Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, July 17, 2006. 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 photos were taken by both Reuters and AP photographers.


But a close-up reveals that the scene is entirely counterfeit: the fire, as the gunman and the photographers must have known, was nothing more than tires burning in a garbage dump. The captions conveyed the "fact" that the gunman was in a dangerous situation, ready to fire at a downed Israeli aircraft. It's not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that Hezbollah set the fire themselves, to provide a dramatic backdrop for an iconic propaganda image.



What to make of all this? As is demonstrated on this page, Reuters has committed not just one instance of fraud, and not just one type of fraud, but four distinct categories of fraud.

Now, of course there is a real war going on, and there is real damage, and authentically tragic scenes. No one is denying that. So, with all the actual honest footage of unstaged war imagery floating around, why is Reuters resorting to supplementing its coverage with obviously fake photos? Several theories have been posited in opinion pieces since the scandal broke. Here's a summary of the various possibilities.
Theory A: The Reuters editorial staff is sympathetic to the aims of Hezbollah, and is using propagandistic images exaggerating Israeli violence to increase world pressure on Israel to stop its attacks, thereby giving Hezbollah a chance to regroup, and claim moral superiority.
Stage magicians sometimes used what is called the "smoke-and-mirrors" technique, in which chaotic and distracting effects on stage draw the audience's attention away from the magician's sleight-of-hand. According to Theory A, Reuters is resorting to "smoke-and-mirrors" by taking advantage of the chaos of war, and the chaos of the international media coverage, to promulgate staged or contradictory news reports. Working on the assumption that no one person would ever see enough different media outlets to notice the fraud, which only becomes apparent when comparing different images which are published in a wide variety of media outlets, Reuters has slipped the false reports into the news stream.

Doss, a commenter on Little Green Footballs, made a very well researched comment showing the systematic bias in Reuters editorial captions to photos of the war in Lebanon, with links documenting each point. According to Doss, "Every time, if an Israeli is hurt, it was a "rocket" that did it; if a Lebanese/Hizb is hurt, "Israel" did it. Humans hurt Lebanese, but inanimate objects hurt Israelis, according to Reuters." This clearly points to an anti-Israel bias on the part of Reuters.
Theory B: The stringers employed by Reuters are sympathetic to Hezbollah, and successfully duped the Reuters editors into publishing propaganda.
To accept Theory B, you'd have to conclude that the Reuters editorial staff are cataclysmically incompetent, and were unable to notice numerous frauds so obvious that "untrained bloggers" could easily spot them.
Theory C: The stringers employed by Reuters simply wanted to make a name for themselves, and resorted to fraud to obtain the most spectacular images, regardless of their political outlook.
Again, Theory C requires an almost unbelievable level of incompetence on the part of the Reuters editorial staff. This theory is also doubtful because the propagandistic nature of the photos and captions is almost always anti-Israel.
Theory D: Reuters photographers and editors are intimidated by Hezbollah, and publish Hezbollah's propaganda out of fear for their lives.
This is an intriguing theory. There have been reports coming out of Lebanon that reporters are indeed being bullied and intimidated. A new report reveals that Hezbollah has copies of all journalists' passports and that they threaten those who tell the truth. Michael Totten reported last year how he was at first charmed by the Hezbollah media representative -- a relationship which suddenly turned to fear when he was bullied and threatened once Hezbollah realized he wasn't going to repeat their lies. And CNN's Nic Robertson shockingly admitted that his own news reports were stage-managed by Hezbollah in an interview on July 23. In it, Robertson said,

Well, Howard, there's no doubt about it: Hezbollah has a very, very sophisticated and slick media operations. In fact, beyond that, it has very, very good control over its areas in the south of Beirut. They deny journalists access into those areas. They can turn on and off access to hospitals in those areas. They have a lot of power and influence. You don't get in there without their permission.

And when I went we were given about 10 or 15 minutes, quite literally running through a number of neighborhoods that they directed and they took us to.

What I would say at that time was, it was very clear to me that the Hezbollah press official who took us on that guided tour -- and there were Hezbollah security officials around us at the time with walkie-talkie radios -- that he felt a great deal of anxiety about the situation. And they were telling him -- I just listened to an explosion going off there, coming from the southern suburbs. They were -- they were telling him -- a second explosion there. They were telling here -- rumbling on -- they were telling him get out of this area, and he was very, very anxious about it.

But there's no doubt about it. They had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn't have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath.

So what we did see today in a similar excursion, and Hezbollah is now running a number of these every day, taking journalists into this area. They realize that this is a good way for them to get their message out, taking journalists on a regular basis.


Another description of how Hezbollah intimidates journalists in Lebanon can be found on the Anderson Cooper blog.

So --which of these theories is true? At this stage, it's impossible to tell. The actual truth may be a combination of all four theories.


This scandal casts doubt not just on Reuters' coverage of the current war in Lebanon -- it casts doubt on all media coverage of this war, and of all wars in the past. How long has such chicanery been going on? Could it be that the public for the first time is learning that the media is not as impartial as it has always claimed?

The Scandal Widens to Other News Services

As can be gleaned from the examples above, Reuters is not the only news service involved in some of these bogus photo reports coming out of Lebanon. Photographers from Associated Press and Agence France Presse, in particular, have been present at some of the staged scenes as well, and AP's captions have repeatedly drawn criticism from several bloggers. Now the New York Times enters the fray, with a transparent hoax being featured prominently on its site. On August 8, Gateway Pundit unveiled the ruse:


In this first image, one of a series on the N.Y. Times site, a man with a greenish cap (on the right) is seen gesturing at the rubble.


In the second image, you can see the same man at the lower right, wearing the same cap and baggy, washed-out trunks.


And in this final picture, the same man is seen -- easily identifiable by his trunks, his hat pressed under his arm, and his distinctive nose -- pretending to be dead as someone else tries to lift his "fallen comrade." The Times captioned the image, "The mayor of Tyre said that in the worst hit areas, bodies were still buried under the rubble, and he appealed to the Israelis to allow government authorities time to pull them out. (Photo Tyler Hicks The New York Times)." The unmistakable implication is that the photo depicted what the caption was describing -- a "body" still buried under the rubble. In other words, the guy is now supposed to be dead.


Here's a clearer version of the final picture. It's not only obvious that the man is still alive and only feigning death, making the scene a staged hoax, but that Tyler Hicks, the photographer, must have known that he was only acting for the camera, since Hicks had taken the earlier pictures as well. Hezbollah and the New York Times teamed up here to create a propgandistic image.



Additional Links

Thomas Lifson at Real Clear Politics also has a good essay summarizing some of the ever-widening aspects of the scandal.
Media Matters embarrasses itself trying to defend the authenticity of all the Reuters photographs coming out of Lebanon, falsely claiming that Reuters' denial of the accuracy of its Qana time-stamps somehow defuses the entire issue.
This post at James Taranto's Best of the Web -- about an AP photograph that at first appeared to show a dead body getting up -- turned out to be a false alarm when Augean Stables pointed out that the body likely had rigor mortis in a sitting position.



If you know of any other noteworthy examples of Reuters fraud in its coverage of the war in Lebanon, or if you have comments or corrections about this page, send an email to zombietime here.


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1 comment:

TTB said...

Theory C seems the most likely. people act in their own self interest and getting that hot photo def is THEIR interest. It's too bad because the strife is bad enough without faking information.