It is certainly true that a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to news photographs, and it's especially true of news photographs from war zones.
One of the famous photos from the war was a 1968 Eddie Adams photo for the Associated Press showing a general shooting a Viet Cong fighter in the head with a pistol on a Saigon street. That picture became the left's rally poster for American withdrawal from Vietnam. Adams won the Pulitzer in 1969 for his Vietnam photos, but he regretted the unintended consequences to his dying day. As he wrote in Time magazine, "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths."
Now photographers are going beyond half-truth, to manipulating images that aren't at all real.
Reuters -- the London-based wire service that aroused American ire in 2001 for refusing to describe the 9/11 attackers as "terrorists" (they said the word "adds little" to the story) -- has come under fire for distributing a photo of smoke rising from Beirut suburbs on Aug. 5. Over the weekend, bloggers quickly suspected the photo was a crudely enhanced phony, that it had been "Photoshopped," manipulated by computer software. Internet message boards of photographers quickly agreed.
By Monday, Reuters admitted that its top editors had distributed a pictorial hoax. They not only withdrew that photo, but their entire Internet archive by the responsible photographer, a Lebanese freelancer named Adnan Hajj, who had worked for them since 1993. Then bloggers found a second doctored Hajj photo, of an Israeli F-16 firing "missiles" in southern Lebanon. The plane had dropped a flare as a decoy, but only one flare: Hajj added in two phony flares.
Reuters severed their relationship with Hajj and declared they had "zero tolerance" for doctored photos. They took the right public-relations steps to control the damage, but this doesn't get Reuters editors off the hook. They should have caught this manipulation, and they should have prevented this picture from emerging with their brand on it.
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