Rightie blogger Thomas Lifson says the New York Times ran a fake photo on its web site. A fake staged photo, even.
Is a fake staged photo fit to print? What if it staged in a way that makes the US forces fighting the War on Terror look cruel and ineffective? The evidence argues that yes, it can run, and in a prominent position – at least in the case of the New York Times website.
I did some detective work and learned more about where the fake staged photo came from. But first let’s let Mr. Lifson rant for a while about media bias.
The photo has since been removed from the home page, but still can be seen here.
The picture shows a sad little boy, with a turbaned man next to him, a little bit further from the camera, amid the ruins of a house. Other men and boys peer in from the background. The photo is captioned
â€œPakistani men with the remains of a missile fired at a house in the Bajur tribal zone near the Afghan border.â€
The story it accompanies is about the apparently failed attempt to take out al Qaedaâ€™s #2 man al Zawahiri, with a missile attack from a Predator drone.
â€œHow sad!â€ readers are encouraged to think. â€œThese poor people are on the receiving end of awful weapons used by the clumsy minions of Bush. And all to no avail. Isnâ€™t it terrible? Why must America do such horrible misdeeds? Bush must go!â€
The only problem is that the long cylindrical item with a conical tip pictured with the boy and the man is not a missile at all. It is an old artillery shell. Not something that would have been fired from a Predator. Indeed, something that must have been found elsewhere and posed with the ruins and the little boy as a means at pulling of the heartstrings of the gullible readers of the New York Times.
I’ll take Mr. Lifson’s word about the artillery shell; I don’t know artillery shells from spinach. But I do know something about photograph attribution, and this one clearly says “Getty Images” in the lower right-hand corner.
This means that Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., did not personally order up a staged fake photo from New York Times photographers. Rather, it was purchased (probably for one-time use) from Getty Images. I found the image (Image #56593062) in the News database. The Getty Images caption reads,
Bajur, PAKISTAN: Pakistani tribesmen stand by a unexploded ordinance at their house which was damaged in an alleged US air strike the day before in the Bajur tribal zone near the Afghan border, 14 January 2005. Thousands of tribesmen protested against an alleged US air strike targeting Al-Qaeda’s second in command that killed 18 people near the Afghan border, witnesses said. AFP PHOTO/Thir KHAN (Photo credit should read THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
How This Stuff Works is that Getty purchased the photograph from photographer Khan, who is probably a freelancer or stringer, and added it to its database for view and purchase. Some web site editor at the Times pulled the photo off the Getty database with a company credit card and put it up on the web site to accompany the story. I couldn’t find it in yesterday’s or today’s print edition, so I assume it only went on the web site.
If indeed the image was fake staged by the photographer, it seems both Getty Images and the New York Times were scammed. There were other heartstring-tugging photos in the database that possibly were not fake staged. See, for example, # 56596136, which I think is a better photograph on an artistic level than #56593062. But no; the Times went with #56593062. Too bad.
Mr. Lifson comments,
So the formerly authoritative New York Times has published a picture distributed around the world on the home page of its website, using a prop which must have been artfully placed to create a false dramatic impression of cruel incompetence on the part of US forces. Not only did the editors lack the basic knowledge necessary to detect the fake, they didnâ€™t bother to run the photo past anyone with such knowledge before exposing the world to it.
The fact is that the drones who throw the web site and most of the newspaper together do not routinely run anything by the big shots, at the New York Times or any other newspaper; there’s no time. The Times web site editors trusted Getty Images. I would have made the same mistake, since Getty Images is a long-established source of news photos and is usually reliable.
Although I think Getty Images is more at fault than the Times, I notice the New York Times caption writer called the ordnance in question “the remains of a missile,” whereas the Getty caption calls it “unexploded ordinance [sic].” I suspect sloppiness on the part of the New York Times web caption writer, no doubt a recent English Lit graduate, who just guessed the pointy-ended thing was a missile. After the web editors got some complaints about the photo, they pulled it. Again, that’s How This Stuff Works.
I see at Memeorandum that the righties are having fits about the New York Times, however. Hugh Hewitt says the shell destroyed “what’s left of the New York Times‘ Reputation.” Scott at Power Line posted the image and commented,
The Times’ caption said: “Pakistani men with the remains of a missile fired at a house in the Bajur tribal zone near the Afghan border.” Only it’s not the remains of a missile, it’s an old artillery shell. Which means the photo was deliberately faked by the people depicted, probably with the knowing aid of the AFP photographer. I think the villagers were lying about not hosting members of al Qaeda, too.
ONE MORE THING: The photo is still up at Yahoo News Photos, but with a changed caption that now says the men are shown standing next to “a unexploded ordnance.” Yes, probably from the 1980s. No doubt the picture will be reproduced in many newspapers around the world.
One, Getty Images says the photo was taken 14 January 2005 [update: I guess we’re a year off, aren’t we], although I ‘spect they were taking the photographers’ word on that. Two, Yahoo News credits the image to Agence France-Presse (AFP). They didn’t get it from the New York Times and apparently not from Getty Images either. I don’t think AFP and Getty are subsidiaries; possibly the photographer sold the same image to both agencies. Maybe AFP got scammed, too.
But the good news here is that because (I trust) there is one fake staged photo, the entire news story about 18 innocent people being killed has been cancelled. The villagers were faking the story; they were probably lying about not hosting al Qaeda also. We can now dismiss the whole episode as so much spin, as if it never happened. I know you are relieved.