Sunday, August 06, 2006

MSM, bloggers and Israeli-Lebanon conflict - Update: photogate

UK Blogger at EU Referendum accuses news agencies of colluding with Hezbollah and all hell breaks loose. Is it always a good thing when bloggers start making the news? (photos: ‘white t-shirt man and ‘suspicious’ logo on his chest)

Have been having a very interesting discussion with Richard North this afternoon at EU Referendum blog, in between taking dog for walk, making Yorkshire puddings, etc.

Richard's blog has been making news in the MSM and is claiming that bloggers are challenging the legitimacy of the media and a tipping point may have been reached by his posts about the Middle East crisis.

I disagree.

Richard - ‘maverick’ Thatcherite, member of the Bruges Group - has been in the news media loads in the UK this past week for his allegations that some news agencies having been using ‘misleading’ or even ‘staged’ photographs in their coverage of the Israel-Lebanon war.

North claims that Hezbollah has been manipulating the ‘left-leaning’ western media and editors have been presenting an anti-Israeli picture.

The MSM in Britain has got very defensive about the allegations and North has become a bit of a hate figure in the UK print media.

Unfortunately, at least some of what EU Referendum has been claiming is patently not true. The case of the White T-shirt man being the most obvious. North claimed that the photos had been doctored and the man in the white T-shirt was working for Hezbollah and that he had been directing the photographers and staging an image of him carrying a dead child in his arms.

The white t-shirt, North said, had a logo on it which was obviously ‘electronically altered’ so that you could not see what was written on it – some pro-Hezbollah slogan, perhaps?

North also stated that he had an ‘unnamed photo expert’ who could back up what he was saying.

It turns out that the photo in question was a compressed jpg and no photo expert in the world would have an opinion about it, one way or another.

The full size version reveals that nothing was written on the t-shirt apart from a faded fashion label. The strange ‘logo’ was the folds in the man’s t-shirt.

I tried all afternoon to get Richard to tell me who this ‘photo expert’ was, or even some information about what type of organization he works for, how long he has been an ‘expert’ etc..

Richard refused to answer. He said white t-shirt man was a dead end which didn’t affect the crux of his argument. He claimed that he was provoking a debate about the reliability of the news media and that they are biased against Israel.

But getting things right does matter, expecially when you are questioning the reporting of photo journalists in a war zone.

North claimed that he used an ‘independent expert’ in his analysis. So who is he?

I think the ‘expert’ is a fiction.

What about blogs being believable, trustworthy, and all that stuff, Richard? Richard said:

I have no "credibility" to lose, because I do not hold myself up to offer the unvarnished truth.

He then claimed the whole thing was a ‘sting operation’, which I don’t think I really understand – but it…fraud?

Yes, bloggers are indeed the purveyors of a tarnished truth. But I don’t think that is anything to boast about.

I have nothing against Richard personally, and some of the attacks on him in the British media have been ridiculous this week. He was also one of the first people to say something nice about the beatroot blog in the early days when I thought I was blogging to myself. And I am grateful for that kindness.

It is the bloggers role to pick the scabs, and even open a few wounds, on MSM news coverage. But if bloggers are reaching Richard’s ‘tipping point’ in our relationship with MSM then we had better try and retain the little credibility we have, and not go throwing it away by accusing war photographers of ‘staging’ events with evidence (and experts) that are beyond credibility.


But Richard isn't finished yet about journalists doctoring photos. See here. He is also appearing on BBC 2's Newsnight programme tonight, 7, Aug.

After the Reuters freelance photographer has been caught doctoring at least two photos Richard is on a roll...See Where there's smoke, Daily Telegraph.

The photo on the left is the altered one (click on the photo to get a clearer view). You can see more smoke. But two things strike me about Adrian Hajj, the guy who took these.

Why did he bother risking his career for a small change to a photo that was powerful in the first place?

Secondly, why do the doctoring so badly? It was done with a tool called 'clone' which you can find on photoshop. It takes bits of the photo and you can place them anywhere. You can see repeated bits of smoke on the left hand side of the photo easily.

If you look closely then you can see that some of the buildings repeat themselves. That is an effect of the 'clone'. Not a very good attempt to fool the world. So why bother?

But it does show that when journalists get things wrong there are consequences. Not the same for bloggers.

But the obsession about bias reporting is not just confined to right wing blogs. Harry’s Place, the supposedly left wing ‘Euston manifesto’ blog has a post about ‘Reutersgate’ claiming that the photographer who photoshopped his images "was behind many of the images from Qana – which have also been the subject of suspicions for being staged."

That claim is false, as much else is at Harry’s Place. Adrian Hajj was at Qana but he was not the author of the contested photos of 'white t-shirt man'.


michael farris said...

For once Stefan has a point. Of course lots of pictures and film are staged. That's just one more weapon in this conflict, being used more effectively by the Lebanese at present.

michael farris said...

In the same vein. I'm not 100% it's the same woman, but ....

beatroot said...

Stefan, are you serious?

I received three comment posts from you ALL OF WHICH WERE IDENTICAL.

Do you really think that what you said was soooo interesting that we should publish it THREE TIMES?

beatroot said...

Mike: what Richard is saying is that ‘leftie’ war photographers have been taking pictures of dead children that have been staged, controlled, invented, by Hezbollah.

I think that completely misunderstands the minds of war journalists.

They are not trying to get a shot that everyone else has….which is all they would get with a ‘staged’ photo op – they are trying to get the shot that no other photographer gets. Most photo journalists in a war zone are freelance. And freelance photographers get paid by the ‘money shot’…the photo that is unique.

Richard is a right wing conspiracy theorist. I kind of right wing Michael Moore.

Gustav said...

The Reuters photoshopping story is legit though, and all of the conservative blogs are having a howl over it. Then there's this story. I think it's fair to ask whether the MSM is biased. If not, and in the photoshopping case they were just being sensationalist - as I would like to believe - rather than biased, then has anybody out there found one instance of the MSM sensationalizing a story or especially a photograph "enhanced" to emphasize Israeli suffering?

That would prove just unethical journalism, not a bias.

But so far I haven't seen anything like that.

beatroot said...

As you were posting that I just made a further link to the Rueters photoshopping story. And yeah, conservatives are having a great time. Richard started this thing off so I bet he still feels justified.

The white t-shirt man though was a bit of a red herring (emphasis on 'red) and paranoia can do this to people. But the debate is legit. So is the one about blogging and how reliable we are...or not.

Gustav said...

I read the white t-shirt scandal over at EU Referendum, and I agree with you beatroot. I think that the blogosphere is a fantastic check on the mainstream media - though I don't think that's blogging's raison d'etre as some bloggers do. But when we make an accusation of bias, we'd better be prepared to back up our arguments with hard facts - which is exactly why Richard's statement about the white t-shirt guy controversy not being the "crux of his argument" as you put it, is wrong. It is essential that when someone make an accusation as inflammatory as his, they back it up. Otherwise, journalists who really are manipulating stories or omitting facts won't feel the need to explain themselves when a blogger finds a real inconsistency.

polishpenguin said...

It's coming down to actually being there and seeing it for yourself because no one can be trusted anymore. And that's quite sad. One has to wonder if Israel really pulled out of the Gaza strip then.

beatroot said...

Penquin: I ain't gonna take sides on this Israel-Lebanon thing. What I don;t like is western intervention...more of which later.

Gustav: On the forum he was on the defensive with me. But on his posts he is back to the old bombastic Richard.

he's a bit of a character!

beatroot said...

I would challenge that claim that CBB International (not the US one) is biased against Lebanon. I have been impressed with their coverage. Very good bit today about Hezbollah as a state within a state with all the things you expect from a state - social security, health service, construction services, everything. They are very popular in south Lebanon as a result. They are doing the things that the weak Lebanon state is not.

But every side complains about media during war time. It's predictable. But in days like these I think people are a little more savy - and we have a wide vareity of sources - that we can sort things out for ourselves.

beatroot said...

Yeah, we have been meddling in that part of the world for around 100 years. And look where that has got us...

Anonymous said...


I read your comments over on Richards blog, and tend to agree with you. However, I don't know where you get that " Richard is a right wing conspiracy theorist. I kind of right wing Michael Moore."

He's not. Really. He's a guy with an uncanny nose for things which smell.

beatroot said...

Yes, the Moore comparison was wrong. To what extent Richard has a ‘smell for a story’ we shall see, and I wish him all the luck. But I was not impressed by his claims that bloggers have no reputation to lose, so what the hell.

His is a ‘splatter gun’ approach hoping something sticks. I don’t think that is good enough if blogs are to be taken seriously.

michael farris said...

"Secondly, why do the doctoring so badly? It was done with a tool called 'clone' which you can find on photoshop."

My best guess is he couldn't see how fake it looked and assumed most news consumers wouldn't either. Far from being a natural ability, being able to make sense of photographs is an acquired skill and it's possible that the photoshop generation (not the same as anyone who uses it) 'sees' pictures differently that the rest of us.

I'm remind of charges of doctoring the photos of the Kallikak family:

The doctoring looks crude now, but I've read that at the time most people couldn't tell the difference.

beatroot said...

But why would a professional photographer make small changes to a picture that didn't need it and do it so badly? He has been sacked from his job and will find it very hard to get anyone to take any of his photos again from a war zone? He will now only be able to work as a wedding photographer!

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