COMMENTARY: Digitally altered photos represent an inexcusable abuse of trust


Bob Hansen, Editor, Connersville News-Examiner

Sunday, June 21, 2020

National Geographic magazine found itself in hot water when it published a cover photo of pyramids in Egypt in its February 1982 edition. The magazine had used software to move the pyramids closer together to make a better photo.

The photographer noticed. The magazine publicly promised to never do that again. It was also discovered that the photographer had paid some men to ride their camels in front of the pyramids to create the scene he wanted.

But here’s one much worse story as far as I am concerned. This is from a newsletter of the Poynter Institute, which keeps tabs on journalistic performance and ethics.

Poynter’s article from Tuesday is called “A lowest of lows.” From the Poynter newsletter:

This is bad. Really bad.

Fox News’ website published digitally altered photos that made it seem as if a demonstration in Seattle was violent and dangerous, when in fact, it was nothing of the sort. In an editor’s note, Fox News apologized – sort of – but the damage had already been done.

It started when Fox News’ website ran a photo that was supposedly from Seattle with the headline “Crazy Town.” That photo – a man running in front of a burning building – was actually from St. Paul, Minnesota. Another photo of a man holding an assault rifle was digitally added.

There’s no other way to put this: These are fireable offenses. They are inexcusable. This is no different than completely making up a story – which many … consider to be the worst offense in journalism.

And Fox News’ website might have gotten away with this reprehensible behavior had it not been caught by The Seattle Times. Fox News only removed the images after being called out by the paper.

In an emailed statement to The Seattle Times, a Fox News spokesperson said: “We have replaced our photo illustration with the clearly delineated images of a gunman and a shattered storefront, both of which were taken this week in Seattle’s autonomous zone.”

But The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner wrote, ‘That statement is inaccurate, as the gunman photo was taken June 10, while storefront images it was melded with were datelined May 30 by Getty Images.’

Talk about fake news. Now you know some of how it’s done.

That’s certainly an inexcusable abuse of the public’s trust.