Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Photo Wars

The current conflict in Lebanon and Northern Israel continues to bring indelible images to inboxes, news sites, television sets, and webcasts. The scenes show carnage on both sides of the border, and civilian casualties are hard to look at, especially those that include children.

That's why questions about photographs taken in Lebanon are problematic. Do they portray the scene objectively without editing, corrections, or staging or have the photographers taken liberties with the scenes to enhance their physical appearance and/or emotional impact?

The questions were first raised on some of the photos belonging to Adnan Hajj, whose collection of 920 photos has now been pulled by Reuters because two of his photos clearly show that they were photo edited in violation of Reuters standing policy on editing images for publication.

Those photos include the usage of a clone stamp tool to exaggerate smoke rising from buildings in Beirut and adding flares fired from Israeli jets flying missions over Beirut. The two photos are most obvious frauds, but there are several classes of hijinks involved, and Zombie has put together a handy dandy guide to the problems (specific to Reuters, but the types of problems can be applied to other media outlets):
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.
It's getting to the point that it's almost impossible to keep track of all the hijinks. Some of these are wild goose chases, where items that appear to be out of order can have plausible explanations or have scientific explanations. Others are far more difficult to explain, or show signs of being staged or photo edited.

Photos of the same scene appear to be recycled in one instance - Drinking at Home has the details.

Problems aren't just confined to photos. Captions are also a huge problem. Too many members of the media are completely ignorant of things military. Anything that has a track is considered a tank, such that self propelled artillery has been called tanks, rockets are confused with artillery shells, and then there's the whole nomenclature issue of calling Hizbullah a terrorist group.

Rockets fired from Lebanon are mischaraterized as being fired from Israel, and there are even questions over how those photos were captured in the first place.

Individuals are captured on film, and the background appears to change significantly but there's no way to know whether the photos are what they claim.

While Reuters has been hit hard by this problem, the company has taken swift action to get ahead of the problem by killing the photos and firing the stringer, Adnan Hajj. Reuters appears to have learned from the Rathergate fiasco by dealing with the problem quickly. Problem is that the photo kills do not eliminate the photos that have already been published in magazines, newspapers, or on websites and used as propaganda, which was their original intention. It also doesn't deal with the internal problems that let these photos get published all along.

The most important thing to realize is that this problem isn't confined to Reuters. Other media outlets are going to get hit by this mess. The New York Times has a captioning problems at a minimum. Gateway Pundit has the details, but it appears that there are problems with captions, if not with posed shots to maximize the effect for Hizbullah propaganda purposes. Michelle Malkin has further details.

Allah notes more smoke and fire with the US News and World Reports cover.

Photos are being taken down all over the place, including one at the Washington Post.

Some think that this is all about framing the issue. Well, some issues are better framed than others.

And reporting from South Lebanon means dealing with the devil - quite literally. Hizbullah controls the reports coming out of Hizbullahland, and they take their control quite seriously. Threats to journalists are not uncommon. They take journalist passports as a matter of doing business. LGF has more. Indeed Michael Totten was hassled by Hizbullah last year and wrote about his experiences:
There were two separate entrances, one for women, the other for journalists and VIPs. A gaggle of Hezbollah security agents manned the doors. Several sat behind a long table. This, apparently, was where I was supposed to check in.

I showed my passport and press credentials to the man who looked like he was in charge. He stuffed them in his briefcase.

“Which hotel are you staying at?” he said.

I didn’t like the idea of telling Hezbollah where they could find me. Fairly or not, they are listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. But I answered his question. I didn’t tell him I planned to move into an apartment two days later.

A security agent stepped behind me as I scribbled in my notebook while I waited. He craned his neck and tried to read over my shoulder. I frowned at him and abruptly turned so he could not read what I was writing.

I hadn’t noticed, but a military band was assembling behind me. The drummer banged once on his drum like a rifle shot. I jumped in my seat. A Hezbollah security agent who looked distinctly Iranian laughed not with me but at me.

More journalists showed up and were allowed to enter the building with minimal hassle. What was their problem with me? My passport and press ID were stuffed into the briefcase and that was that. They were making me wait for no apparent reason at all.
Intimidation and threats are par for the course of a terrorist group. This is how they do business all the time, and it's even more apparent as the fighting continues that Hizbullah is doing all it can to control the flow of information out of Hizbullahland because the reality would show just how badly beaten Hizbullah has been in the fight despite the rocket launches on Israel and Israeli soldiers they've managed to kill.

We've repeatedly seen Hizbullah exaggerate its success against Israeli forces, claiming hundreds of Israelis killed, tanks wrecked, planes downed, ships sunk, and mass carnage in Israel. The reality is quite different, and Confederate Yankee calls this the ghosts in the media machine. Hizbullah so tightly controls the media images coming out of South Lebanon that you would be hard pressed to know whether a single Hizbullah rocket launcher has been destroyed or Hizbullah member killed. The only images coming out are those approved by Hizbullah - namely those showing ostensible civilian casualties, particularly women and children and shattered buildings. Israel has published videos and still images of their view of the battlefield, including videos showing Hizbullah rockets launched from and between residential buildings or rocket launchers driving along roads to dart into buildings to hide. Hizbullah is doing all it can to win the media war, and unless and until the world's media ceases doing business with Hizbullah, the terror group will continue to get its message out to Israel's detriment.

Investors Business Daily thinks Reuters is quickly becoming the source of your anti-Semitic, anti-war buck up. That's the problem when you're relying upon stringers in Lebanon some of whom do not have a problem shilling for Hizbullah.

A new term has been coined out of this mess: Fauxtography.

You can bet that this issue will continue snowballing as Ace of Spades warned. This is far from over. Media companies must do a far better job of picking out both the obvious and nonobvious frauds, setups, and exaggerations in the photos coming out of Lebanon and must do better factchecking on the captions attached to them. And those that aren't caught will be picked up by the bloggers, who have already shown that the factcheckers and editorial controls thus far have been wholly inadequate.

There are multiuse buildings, and then there are multiuse buildings. When you have captions saying that the same building is bombed and destroyed on three different dates, all with identical damage, one ought to wonder about them. Whether its caption problems or photographers lying about the content, who knows for sure.

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