Future women leaders of America: Beware of Photoshop

Ashley Herzog
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Posted: Oct 05, 2006 12:01 AM

Future women leaders of America beware: if you plan on a career in politics, don’t allow yourself to be photographed in a bikini. Especially if you’re the type of woman who speaks out against the sexualization of young girls, the media will be eager to use it against you.

That is what we learned from conservative author Michelle Malkin last week. After she wrote a column criticizing once-wholesome singer Charlotte Church for her slide into pop star hedonism, left-wing Internet blogs discovered photographs of Malkin on spring break fourteen years ago. Accompanied by headlines like “Michelle Malkin gone wild” and “Michelle, you ignorant slut,” the blogs linked to a photo-sharing page that featured Malkin cavorting with girlfriends and posing in a string bikini.

It seemed like the perfect “gotcha” moment for the liberal blogosphere. But there was a problem: the photo page wasn’t real. I know this because most of the pictures on it belong to me.

Whoever made the photo page apparently wasn’t content to insult Malkin, an Asian woman, with racial slurs – a popular activity among her critics. Instead, they aimed to expose her as a hypocrite. Using pictures stolen from various Webshots.com accounts, including mine, the creator wrote captions to imply that I had had been a classmate of Malkin’s at Oberlin College in the early 90s – and that she was anything but a moralist back then.

By the time I discovered the hoax, liberal blogs were already hard at work smearing Malkin as a “slut,” “hussy,” and “b-tch.”

I was shocked as I scrolled through posts and reader comments about my pictures, some of them photoshopped or falsely labeled as pictures of Malkin. Racist jokes and sexual denigration were common themes.

Beneath a picture of me with a close friend from high school, someone had written, “She looks so happy back then…I wonder what made her become such a bitch? Maybe her grandma never sent her a care pack of adobo and lumpia shanghai.”

When someone commented that the photo of Malkin in a skimpy bikini appeared to be photoshopped, a reader responded, “A too small head on Malkin's body doesn't mean it's Photoshopped. It just means that she has to put in the extra effort when she gives blow jobs.” The malicious posts did not appear on obscure blogs serving the political fringe. In fact, the most aggressive attacks came from a law professor at the University of North Carolina and a blog conglomerate valued at $76 million. Despite Malkin’s insistence that the photo site was an obvious forgery, the blogs continued to deride her as a hypocrite and, above all, a “skank.”

Still, I was confident that I could put an end to the hoax by coming forward as the owner of the photographs. I wrote an e-mail to Wonkette, the blog that first posted the pictures. I explained that only one picture on the page showed the real Michelle Malkin – I took it at the Conservative Political Action Conference last February, where I briefly met her. The others had been stolen from my webpage.

Three days later my letter remained unanswered, and the smear campaign against Malkin raged on. I sent a second request to Gawker, the media empire that owns Wonkette, detailing the theft of my pictures. I was optimistic that a conglomerate worth tens of millions of dollars would show some accountability toward its audience.

Two days have passed, and my inbox is still empty.

This is the brave new world of Internet media. Like many Americans, I entered it with a naïve notion of bloggers as modern-day pamphleteers, throwing the cover off stories that the establishment media won’t touch. I believed that Internet blogs, being far more democratic mediums than mainstream television networks and newspapers, would show respect for the truth.

But after visiting a few popular blogs, I realized I was sadly mistaken. At best, many zero in on political gossip and absurd non-issues, such as whether a conservative author ever posed in a swimsuit. At worst, many political blogs are cesspools of racism, misogyny, and obscenity, not to mention vicious lies.

The posts and links to my pictures are still up, and I’m no longer anticipating a response from Gawker. They are a multimillion-dollar behemoth; I’m a college kid with a claim to a few stolen photographs. They have nothing to lose by ignoring me.

However, it seems the fallout from the Malkin hoax is far from over. This morning, I received an anxious message from an Ohio State student who had just discovered the fake photo page.

She identified herself as “the girl in the bikini” and explained that Malkin’s face had been photoshopped onto her body. She asked what we could do to stop the pictures from being circulated.

The answer, unfortunately, is probably “nothing.” Gawker and its ilk appear willing to perpetuate bald-faced lies in order to advance an agenda. And they don’t mind taking a few innocent college girls along for the ride.