In a statement, Reuters claimed the two altered photos were among 43 Hajj had filed "directly to the Global Pictures Desk since the start of the conflict on July 12 rather than through an editor in Beirut." But the New York Times reported a senior Reuters editor claiming it was not a mistake made at the top." On Saturday, we published 2,000 photos," Paul Holmes said. "It was handled by someone on a very busy day at a more junior level than we would wish for in ideal circumstances." These shifting stands do not excuse how even photographic amateurs could quickly deduce that the phony-smoke picture was about as believable as a $3 bill -- and then caught a second doctored photo.
There was clearly an agenda here. A look at Adnan Hajj's pictures from Lebanon (and the captions written for them) packed an obvious emotional punch against Israeli aggression. This is ironic, considering the official Reuters distaste for "emotive terms" like terrorism: "Some Reuters coverage, including pictures and video, is of wars or conflicts during which all sides are actively promoting their positions and arguments. We are committed to reporting the facts and in all situations avoid the use of emotive terms." But they're obviously committed to very emotive photographs of dead babies, as Hajj took in the controversial bombing of civilians in a Qana apartment complex.
Perhaps the phoniest part of what the bloggers call "Reutergate" is the Reuters declaration that they are the perfect picture of objectivity. "We do not take sides and attempt to reflect in our stories, pictures and video the views of all sides. We are not in the business of glorifying one side or another or of disseminating propaganda. Reuters journalists do not offer their own opinions or views."
Anyone who has read Reuters in recent years can see the comedy in that statement. One 2002 photo caption lamented: "Human rights around the world have been a casualty of the U.S. 'war on terror' since September 11." In 2003, the day before Baghdad fell, Reuters reporter Greg Frost casually compared Saddam's withdrawing guerrilla forces to colonial soldiers in the American Revolution. Within days of Saddam's capture that December, Reuters began a dispatch with this supposedly non-opinionated sentence: "Joy at the capture of Saddam Hussein gave way to resentment toward Washington Monday as Iraqis confronted afresh the bloodshed, shortages and soaring prices of life under U.S. occupation."
So when the major media tell you that they would never manipulate a word or a picture to press their own political agenda, it's always best to check the fine print -- and the fine pixels of newfangled digital photography.