"What's the big deal over a little faked smoke?" That seems to be the prevailing attitude among media pooh-bahs irked by bloggers who exposed the crude Photoshoppery of a Reuters photographer over the weekend. The cameraman, prolific Lebanese stringer and chronicler of Hizballah Adnan Hajj, was fired.
But the black cloud of truth-distorting photo fakery, jihadi-sympathizing news staging and sloppy photo captioning in the Middle East hangs over American journalism thicker than anything Hajj could conjure.
Charles Johnson of littlegreenfootballs.com, who was instrumental in debunking the faked National Guard memos that disgraced CBS News and Dan Rather during the 2004 presidential election, led an Army of Myth Busters who exposed Hajj's digital cloning of smoke clouds over a Beirut bombing scene. The Jawa Report (mypetjawa.mu.nu), another War on Terror blog, dissected a second Hajj photo of cloned flare smoke in an image of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet over the skies of Lebanon. A Reuters caption falsely identified the manipulated flares as "missiles during an air strike on Nabatiyeh." My video news site, HotAir.com, continues to track the latest developments.
The Internet graphics expert brigade zeroed in on an obvious Photoshop technique used in the billows of Hajj's smoke known as the clone stamp tool. It's also known as the rubber stamp tool, fitting for a news service that seems to have made its mark rubber stamping pro-Hizballah propaganda. Indeed, the day after Reuters 'fessed up to the doctored photos, the wire service falsely blamed the Israeli Defense Forces for bombing a funeral procession, according to Arutz Sheva.
Hajj provided perhaps the lamest excuse in photojournalistic history for his image manipulation since Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" rationalization -- telling his bosses that he was quote trying to "remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under." Among his many other dubious shots: several Hizballah-embedded images, an artfully burning Koran and an iconic photo of a dead child paraded around Qana by unknown handlers.
Watch now for braying, rationalizing and messenger-shooting from the journalistic elite. You will hear them complain about the bloodthirsty blog mob. You will see MSM editors rally around Reuters and dismiss this debacle as a lone event. Adnan Hajj, the new international Jayson Blair/Mike Barnicle/Janet Cooke/Mary Mapes/Walter Duranty, will end up with a book contract and a job at Al Jazeera. Media veterans will hope that their professional apathy will snuff out probing questions like baking soda on a pan fire. After all, it's "old news" already.
In a sense, they are right. Whether from sloppiness, laziness, incompetence or ideological bias, American journalists have played dupes or worse to jihadi propagandists for decades. Just a few weeks ago, a New York Times photography editor raved over her photographer Joao Silva's image of an al-Sadr army sniper posing in a window firing at U.S. troops. "Incredible courage," she panted. It's not clear whether she was talking about the photographer or the terrorist. The Associated Press has failed to respond to my repeated questions about one of its Iraqi stringers, Bilal Hussein, who was detained by the U.S. military in April after being captured in a Ramadi building with a cache of weapons, according to my sources. Hussein was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photography team.
From the fake "massacre" in Jenin, to the false accusations against Israel in the shooting of Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura, to the dissemination of "Pallywood" terrorist video productions, to the false labeling of executed Shiite fishermen in a Haditha sports stadium as victims of U.S. Marines, the Reuterization of war journalism goes far beyond Reuters.
Reuters can kill a few pictures, but it does not kill persistent doubts about the American media's ability to cover this war through anything but a distorted lens. The blogosphere can help clear the bogus smoke. Only the Old Media itself can stamp out the toxic fire.