Hysteria, Thy Name Is Wingnut

Bush Administration

Some rightie bloggers have their knickers in a knot because the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (apparently; none of them link to the original article, but this guy provides a screen shot) used what was probably a stock photo of factory smokestacks to illustrate a global warming article.

Why is this scandalous? Apparently the CBC has used the same stock photo in other stories — possibly they own it — and they tweak the colors and crop it different ways to make it work with the story. But the photo isn’t anything but an eye catcher, something graphic to break up text. From what I can tell the CBC never put a caption on it and aren’t claiming it stands for anything in particular except factory smokestacks in a generic sense.

Some people need another hobby.

The site linked above says “Set aside for a moment the journalistic misrepresentation on display in using a photo depicting air pollution to illustrate a story on the costs of meeting Kyoto mandated C02 reductions… ” Right, factory emissions don’t have anything to do with C02 … oh, wait

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  1. QrazyQat  •  Apr 20, 2007 @9:48 pm

    In my 6 plus years of experience living in Toronto, the picture that the linked blogger’s reader Pete is highly unusual as far as smog goes; that’s why Torontonians refer to their city as “the big smoke” (even Wikipedia mentions this as a nickname, right after “T.O., T Dot, Hogtown” — BTW, I’ve never heard T Dot used). We lived on the east end and it was unusual to be able to go to Kingston Road, about as far east as that picture is west, and actually see the CN Tower clearly. The sky is generally much more like the pics in the CBC shot.

  2. r4d20  •  Apr 20, 2007 @11:57 pm

    While acknowledging the right-wingnut-o-sphere’s penchant for flipping out over, oft imaginary, examples of “bias”, I think there is a valid reason to “condemn” (maybe too harsh a term) this kind of photo manipulation (at least outside the editorial page) : it makes it harder for consumers to trust that they are being given the “facts” without manipulation.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m somewhat cynical, but if/when I find out that I have been manipulated by a source of information I am MUCH less likely to trust that source again. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice……well, the thing is, you don’t want to get fooled again”. This is exactly why I no longer even bother to read any of the rightwing “news” I used to read.

    None of us can anymore claim to be suprised by the rightwing tactic of dealing with bad news by attacking the messenger and alleging a “vast conspiracy” – especially when it comes to Global Warming – so it’s important not to do things that make their claims appear credible.

    I understand that the editing was (probably) purely aesthetic and NOT done with any “propaganda” in mind and that such aesthetic editing has been done for a long time by all major news organizations, but I still think that, in todays’ world, even such aesthetic editing should be done with caution,

    1. The Internet and, especially, the rise of blogs has increased the number of would-be “media watchdogs” who not only have their own resources but can harness the resources of, potentially, thousands of readers who are willing to volunteer their time and special subject-matter expertise to their cause. The upshot is that photo editing is much more likely to be noticed (“discovered”) then it was in the past.

    2. This rise of the internet and, once again, blogs has naturally resulted in the rise of the number of sites alleging “conspiracies” of various kind – because while bloggers are not more likely to be conspiracy proponents, conspiracy proponents are probably more likely to be bloggers. Consequently, when such editing is found it is very likely to be quickly framed as an attempt at propaganda by someone who feels their ox has been gored. IF the allegations make it into the MSM they will be reported as “he said, she said” – a position which often objectivly favors the “conspiracy” angle. As we all know, even when such allegations lack any real merit they can still take on a life of their own and enter conventional wisdom purely through repitition – and the right-wingnut-o-sphere is an echo chamber that has taken “proof by repetition” to unprecidented levels.

    3. Even a blind squirrel occassionaly finds a nut, and for all their embarassing gaffes and failures, the wingnut media-watchdogs have had their occasional success – probably the most famous being the edited picture of a smokey Beruit during the recent Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Each success makes future allegations look more credible, especially to those who dont “fact check”, while their failures largely vanish down the popular memory hole and dont make much impression outside those who already dont trust the source.

    All of this goes double for global warming because the ground is fertile for those who would use things like this to try and discredit the idea of global warming.
    1. The rightwing has been pushing the “Global Warming is a socialist conspiracy” for years and has gotten kind of slick at it.
    2. The environmental movement does have a minority of committed “extremists” with an established track record of “lying for the greater good”. [I know its a tiny minority, but that matters less than the fact that the precedent has been established in the mind of the public, which makes allegations like this one more believable to the uneducated]

    Anyways, sorry for the rant. Obviously I have little but scorn for the lies of the right-wingnuts, but I think its best to do our part not to make their job easy.

  3. maha  •  Apr 21, 2007 @7:34 am

    While acknowledging the right-wingnut-o-sphere’s penchant for flipping out over, oft imaginary, examples of “bias”, I think there is a valid reason to “condemn” (maybe too harsh a term) this kind of photo manipulation (at least outside the editorial page) : it makes it harder for consumers to trust that they are being given the “facts” without manipulation.

    Having spent about a million years in book and magazine publishing, I assure you that magazines in particular do this sort of thing all the time and have been for years, and it doesn’t have anything to do with manipulating facts. Consumer magazine layout requires graphics to break up the text on the page, and it is the most ordinary and common practice imaginable to use a stock photo or other generic graphic as an eye catcher. It’s also the most ordinary and common practice imaginable to tweak the graphic somehow to make it more eye catching.

    Examples: Off the top of my head — let’s say you’re publishing an article about desperate suburban housewives. You might buy a stock photo of a suburb — any suburb will do; doesn’t have to be one named in the article — and turn it into a red and black duotone. Then maybe someone add the title of the article over the photo — “Sex in the Suburbs,” or something.

    Do you not understand that this is nothing other than a big, splashy graphic to get your attention and draw you into the article? It’s not intended to provide you with “facts” of any sort. If the magazine wants the photo to convey facts, it will add a caption.

    As an editor I am always dumbfounded when people don’t grasp this. It seems so obvious to me. The photograph in question was just representatives of smokestacks; which smokestacks made no difference whatsoever. I might have used it also, and with a clear conscience. The color manipulation thing would have been dishonest only if the article were about those particular smokestacks.

    Over the years I’ve seen maybe a handful of such graphics that I thought were dishonest, but that was because the graphic didn’t really illustrate the article. They implied the article was about “A” and it turned out to be about “B.”

    If the day ever came when the Truth Squad forbade use of generic graphics, many magazines and newspapers would become gray and unlovely things indeed.

    Also, when you’re dealing with print, it’s very common for the colors on the printed page to be very different from the color of the original graphic. This is unintentional; it’s just the nature of the beast. Many times I have sent photographs of pretty blue skies and bright red roses to printers, and in the final product the sky is gray and the flowers are brown. I have spent many long hours camped out at web printers doing “press checks,” checking the signatures coming off the press for glitches, and one of the things being looked at is the color, which can be adjusted. But if the publisher doesn’t want to pay to send staff to another state, or country, then you take what you get.

    When printers used four-color offset printing from film, there was such a thing as color-accurate proofs. Now everyone is switching to digital file-to-plate technology, which allegedly is cheaper, but the proofs don’t provide true color, just approximate color.

    At the same time, colors on a web page change drastically depending on your own monitor. If you ever buy clothes online this becomes a hassle, such as when the orchid pink sweater turns out to be an ugly peachy orange. Very aggravating.

  4. biggerbox  •  Apr 21, 2007 @4:33 pm

    What’s next, a revelation that those fat butts we see accompanying every TV news story about obesity research are not, in fact, the actual butts of people in the study? The breaking news that the specific gas station shown in the story about rising gas prices did not actually just raise its prices? The picture of the cars in the traffic jam next to the story on urban crowding does not actually show cars in my city?

    Oh. My. God. The horror. The duplicity!

    (And this from the people who happily accepted Colin Powell’s satellite images of trucks moving around as proof of WMDs. )

  5. maha  •  Apr 21, 2007 @5:42 pm

    actual butts of people in the study

    Fat chance.

  6. r4d20  •  Apr 21, 2007 @6:16 pm

    I understand that aesthetic editing is a long establish practice. Most publications don’t need to worry because they do not stake their reputation on “objectivity” – people don’t read “Glamour”, “Playboy”, “Mens Fitness”, etc.for objective news. The same is true for openly biased news magazines like The Village Voice or The American Conservative. OTOH, supposedly “objective” News publications – which do NOT openly admit to any bias – probably should try not open the door for bogus, but potentially persuasive, allegations of sneaky bias. No one will care if the photo in the “Home & Garden” section is edited, but if a photo associated with an article on Iraq, Global Warming, etc. is found to be edited, it’s a foregone conlcusion that some blogger is going to tout it as an example of whatever bias they happen to be on the lookout for.

    I’m just saying that, given the reality of our times, if one cares about the appearance of objectivity (which not every publication does) it might be good to be cautious about it when the picture accompanies anything that might be politically “controversial” in some way.

  7. Steve from Canuckistan  •  Apr 22, 2007 @10:19 pm

    As far a real news is concerned ( i.e. not… Anna Nicole…. all the time) at least the CBC can be counted on to deliver with minimal bias.

  8. Julie O.  •  Apr 23, 2007 @7:33 pm

    R4d20, don’t you know by now that it doesn’t matter what anyone does?

    There’s a Tom Leher lyric:
    “When correctly viewed/everything is lewd.”

    The righties adhere to a variant on that lyric and make lots of things which have been mundane and commonplace for decades suddenly controversial. Everything might be potentially politically controversial when righties get their hands on it, twist it out of proportion and scream about it everywhere.