Mary Katharine Ham

Does the mainstream press ever wonder why conservatives distrust them so much?

If so, they need look no further than the “fauxtography” scandals of the last couple of weeks. Conservative bloggers have been hard at work sniffing out suspected fakery and staging in the photos sent back on the newswires from the Israel/Hezbollah conflict, and the investigation got pretty smelly.

First, there was Reutersgate, in which the international news organization had to pull a photo and fire a freelance photographer because he clumsily Photoshopped thicker smoke into the skyline of Beirut.

This incident got bloggers wondering what other photographic evidence of Israeli aggression had been Photoshopped or staged into existence, and just how complicit the news media was in the fakery. They came up with a photo by the same Reuters photographer, in which he had added flares to a photograph of an Israeli plane, and called them missiles.

But that was just the beginning. There was Green Helmet Guy, who seemed to be ever-present at the sites of Israeli “atrocities,” always making the most of the evidence of civilian casualties. He even played director to international news crews and photographers, showing them how to get the best shots of Lebanese casualties.

Then there was the “Passion of the Toys,” in which brand-new toys—poignant symbols of childhood innocence—seemed to keep popping up, perfectly framed by the destruction of war, yet strangely unscathed by it.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Later came the “unluckiest multiple home owner in Lebanon,” photographed on several occasions, weeping in front of her several homes, bombed by several Israeli airstrikes. Then, we have the New York Times’ pieta, in which a rescue worker was carelessly identified as a victim of an airstrike when, in fact, he had been injured while working in the area. And, the flaming tire atrocity. And, the time Hezbollah bombed an Israeli ship in Australia.

Finally, this week, there was the ambulance attack that maybe wasn’t. There’s strong evidence to suggest that the two ambulances allegedly hit by Israeli airstrikes on July 23 were not exactly pulverized by missiles, as we were led to believe.

Reuters fired its fake photographer, which was the correct response to such deception. But, beyond that, there has not been much comeuppance for photographers and reporters involved in airbrushed, faked, and staged news.

The mainstream media’s response to the allegations from blogs has been more along the lines of Greg Mitchell’s, editor of Editor & Publisher, a trade magazine whose mission it is to cover “all aspects of the North American newspaper industry, including business, newsroom, advertising, circulation, marketing, technology, online and syndicates.”

Mitchell’s response to accusations from bloggers—instead of answering the charges and refuting evidence—was to get very defensive, claim that “rightwing bloggers” were only attempting to smear photojournalists as a group, and then proceed to smear rightwing bloggers as a group for daring to point out the dishonesty of some photojournalists, and raise questions about how business is conducted in the Middle East.

You can see Mitchell’s response to the accusations, here and here. You can see the deconstruction thereof, here and here. All are worth a read to really understand how the mainstream media deals with accusations of fraud, and how cavalierly it tosses aside some of its most avid consumers’ concerns. Here’s a typical paragraph from one of Mitchell’s pieces:

Time does not permit a point by point documentation of the dozens of ludicrous, or at least completely unproven, examples of doctored or staged or otherwise manipulated photos on the Web. Have no fear, I will soon return to this subject, but in the meantime, feel free to plunge into the blogosphere. If you go deeply enough, you may feel you are back on the Grassy Knoll. One of the most-linked sites in this controversy, EU Referendum, goes so far as to suggest that a kind of Hollywood "film-set" was improvised at the site of the Qana killings "for the benefit of both Hezbollah and the media."

I would highly recommend you go through the links I’ve listed above and decide for yourself whether the accusations are “ludicrous,” particularly the video of a Hollywood film-set improvised at the site of the Qana killing, “for the benefit of both Hezbollah and the media.”

Instead of addressing concerns and refuting evidence, Mitchell calls bloggers a bunch of Grassy Knoll-ers intent on discrediting “the media as a whole.” This is not the way to win trust with your audience.

Mitchell then went on to discredit himself within the space of just a couple hours.

On Friday, the Confederate Yankee blog brought attention to a column Mitchell had written in 2003, in which he confessed to making up news as a young reporter. He had been sent out to do a story on Niagara Falls, and found himself unable to talk to tourists to get quotes. So, he sat on a bench and made the quotes up. He confessed his journalistic sin in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal.

Many other blogs picked up on the 2003 column, suggesting that Mitchell might be sympathetic to faked news because he himself had been a faker.

Several hours after Confederate Yankee’s post went up, that blogger noticed the text of the 2003 article had been changed. The lede had gone from this:

Since the press seems to be in full-disclosure mode these days, I want to finally come clean. Back when I worked for the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Gazette (now the Niagara Gazette), our city editor asked me to find out what tourists thought about an amazing local event: Engineers had literally “turned off” the famous cataracts, diverting water so they could shore up the crumbling rock face. Were visitors disappointed to find a trickle rather than a roar? Or thrilled about witnessing this once-in-a-lifetime stunt?

To this (additions in bold):

Since the press seems to be in full-disclosure mode these days, I want to finally come clean. Back in 1967, when I was 19 and worked for the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Gazette (now the Niagara Gazette) as a summer intern, our city editor asked me to find out what tourists thought about an amazing local event: Engineers had literally "turned off" the famous cataracts, diverting water so they could shore up the crumbling rock face. Were visitors disappointed to find a trickle rather than a roar? Or thrilled about witnessing this once-in-a-lifetime stunt?

The column had been edited, without notation, within a couple of hours of bloggers calling attention to it, to emphasize Mitchell’s youth and inexperience at the time of his ethical faux pas. Luckily, several bloggers and the Internet preserved the original piece.

So, it seems someone went back and altered a three-year-old column to reflect more positively on Mitchell, once it got a bit of attention from the “Grassy Knoll,” “rightwing bloggers.” Makes all those “ludicrous” accusations of dishonesty of the mainstream press seem not so ludicrous, doesn’t it?

Mitchell now has not just his industry’s malfeasance to answer for, but his own malfeasance, which he admitted to in a 2003 column, and which was then compounded when someone altered his three-year-old copy to protect him.

Changing copy three years after it has been published, without providing a “correction” or “clarification” note, is entirely unethical by the very standards of the newspaper industry Mitchell is charged with covering. Dan Riehl, another blogger, has evidence that Mitchell may have been altering copy in his latest E&P column, as well.

Rightwing bloggers are predisposed to distrust the media, as are most conservatives. The fauxtographers and defenders like Mitchell are giving us no reason to be encouraged. The mainstream press’ stock is in credibility. The right course is to answer, quickly and thoroughly, any credible charges against them, so as to preserve that stock.

Instead, with the notable exceptions of David Perlmutter and Jim Pinkerton, the mainstream media seems content to blame it all on the Grassy Knoll while half of its readers find news coverage is greener on the other side.

This is why we don’t believe you.

Editor's note: In the third paragraph of this story, I goofed and wrote the word "complacent," instead of "complicit." It has been corrected.

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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