Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Recognizing Staged Photos (And Why They're Wrong)

From the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics:

Never distort the content of news photos or video. ... Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events.


Though many instances of staged and faked photos are pretty subtle, or require research (e.g., comparing photos taken on different days by different news organizations), you should train your skeptical eye to catch the most obvious ones.

Caution: graphic image. A baby's corpse, covered in heavy dust, but with a perfectly dust-free, brightly colored pacifier pinned to him/her. [Update, 8/27: EU Referendum says, "As to its apparent cleanliness, we are dealing here with low-definition photographs and it would be unwise to rely on them for the finer points of detail. What might not be visible on these photographs might be very obvious on the high definition copies which - so far, the agencies have not released. Further speculation, therefore, is a route down which we do not want to go."]

Similarly, scenes of destruction, also covered in heavy dust, but with a dust-free stuffed animal in the foreground.

I have to admit: these images didn't strike me as staged until someone pointed it out. I didn't give much thought to the implications either.

Yeah, ok, so someone put it there. So what? The destruction is still real, isn't it?

Yes, but here's the problem: with a staged photo, you know someone tampered with the scene. But how much? [Update, 8/27, from above:]Did he meticulously clean the pacifier and chain at the scene? (Unlikely.) Did he bring it with him and pin it on the baby? (More likely.) But what else did he tamper with? How else was he involved? Any photos of him pinning it on? (Why not?) Did he bring the pacifier knowing he'd find a baby there? How did he know he would? Was he complicit in the act that drew Israeli fire? Did he make sure the baby was in its path? And how much of this has he done in the past?

See, once you start down that road, it's not clear where to stop. That's why it's wrong. That's why it's unethical. [Update, 8/27: Above strike-outs reinforce this. Trust is damaged: where do we stop trusting, and/or begin again?]

Further, the one doing the tampering is really trying to manipulate or mislead you. If you want to be manipulated or misled, that's your choice, but you should have the right to know that it's taking place.


(Please keep in mind that each commenter's opinions are only his/her own.)

Did he kill the baby himself? Somehow I doubt it.

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