Making war look worse

This is a post I just put up on Comments is Free. The discussion there is already lively; if you feel moved to comment, please head over there….

Those bloggers have done it again: They’ve caught a fake used in a major media story.

After Reuters ran a photo last week of black smoke over Beirut, suspicious bloggers noted that smoke isn’t known to rise in incredibly symmetrical bulbous billows. That was clear evidence of Photoshopping, using a tool to “clone” one part of a picture so you can cut-and-paste it over other parts. Someone took this photo, added smoke and made it darker. You can see the before-and-after most clearly here.

The sleuth who proved the hoax was Charles Johnson, the man behind the controversial Little Green Footballs blog and the same man who uncovered the faking of the memos used in Dan Rather’s fateful – for Rather, that is – story about George Bush’s military service. In that case, too, Johnson took the original and the fake the showed how the deception was done by dissecting and overlaying the efforts at technical trickery.

Reuters, however, did not wait 11 days, as CBS did, to respond to the outing. Yesterday, it pulled the photo, apologised, and suspended the photographer, Adnan Hajj. The photographer was already controversial in certain blog circles for taking part in what some contended was a stage-managed presentation of the deaths at Qana.

One wonders why anyone, especially a photographer and journalist, would feel compelled to amplify war. No matter what side you are on, does anyone really need to make war worse?

This morning in New York, I watched a TV interview with the two police officers whose story as the last of too few survivors pulled from the World Trade Center has been made Oliver Stone’s new movie, which opens here Wednesday. Asked whether the movie conveyed their own horror at being trapped for 13 and 22 hours, they said that it couldn’t be made bad enough. Yet that surely did not stop Stone from trying. That is what artists often do when faced with tragedy: they struggle with how to make it bad enough. This is why Elie Wiesel has said that one must not bring theatre to Auschwitz or Auschwitz to theatre; one cannot make it bad enough and – as we have seen in countless movies and miniseries – efforts to make it worse only trivialize the tragedy by unnecessarily over-dramatizing it. And, no, I am not drawing a parallel in any way between any of these events, only between the efforts to amplify.

If this photographer were a dramatist, one wonders why he would see the need to Photoshop reality. Does blacker smoke make the damage worse? Is a dead child in Qana any more tragic if the scene around her is more photogenic?

But, of course, the photographer is not a dramatist. He is a journalist. And that makes the effort to goose up the news both more puzzling and more troubling. I suppose one could argue that these could be the acts of hacks hungry for Page One: it’s simple sensationalism. But I doubt that.

It seems more likely an act of agenda that fits into the current argument about proportionalism in the Hizbullah-Israel war. One side of the argument is, of course, that Israel’s security was violated by Hizbullah, and it has a right to defend itself and to assure that these attacks will stop by disarming or disabling Hizbullah. The other side of the argument we hear now is that Israel’s response is disproportionate, an argument I find puzzling in war, where the disproportion is in winning or losing (I have blogged on this here and here and here). If the effort is not to make war look worse but to make one side in it look disproporationate, then I suppose it makes sense to make the smoke bigger and blacker. It makes sense if that is your agenda.

It doesn’t make sense if what you’re trying to do is report the news.

The other subtext of this incident is one I hope is fading away: the supposed rivalry of blogger v mainstream journalist. There was quite the kerfuffle in the blog world this last week when the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, Nicholas Lemann, wrote in The New Yorker continuing that faux feud (read about it here and here). The professionals in this narrative supposedly say that they are the ones holding the standards.

But then along comes a case like the doctored Reuters photo, where the professionals are the ones violating any standards and the bloggers are the ones catching them at it. Where there’s smoke …

  • Bill K.

    Again, discerning the intent of the media creator might never be possible. But the solution remains the same. The publisher must become transparent about its policy for authenticating photos. If it can’t, and is depending on a solitary stringer to represent a unique event, then it should label the photo “N/A” meaning “not authenticated” to remind the viewer of the need for skepticism.

    If it can authenticate an image or series of images, they would have to reveal that process as well.

    The next photog who tries this will definitely use better Photoshop technique or stage the scene, avoiding any way for us to detect image manipulation.

  • Glyn

    I don’t know the answer to this but it’s a genuine question. What are the guidelines that religious and other philosophers have laid down to see if a war is ‘a just war’ or not – are there any agreed guidelines?

  • Michael

    Crips, you had a post in relation to disproportionalism last week .. I think it applies to your post here. One photographer (not journalist) doctored one photo – to make smoke a little more dramatic (even if the original said everything it needed to about Beiruts Destruction). Its withdrawal does not make the destruction, displacement and death in Lebanon any less.

    Doctored photo – totally wrong… but the rest of the coverage (which isnt shown on israeli TV/media) is enough. He was only one of many journos at Qana .. to say the event was stage managed makes me choke. Dead kids are dead kids. So what if they waited until the media arrived to start pulling out the bodies.

    Please back up your claim that the phtographer has an agenda (other that getting his photos printed). Theres PR in every war. Israel has plenty of resources/ spokespeople to look after its own spin/agenda – I will still look to the BBC, the Guardian, Reuters, AP for the indepenent news rather than biased (wanna be) blogger journos.


  • Andy Freeman

    >So what if they waited until the media arrived to start pulling out the bodies.

    So what if they blew up the building. So what if they planted the bodies.

    After all

    > Dead kids are dead kids.

    Unless they’d dead joooish kids. They deserve it.

  • Ravo

    One side (Israel) strives to limit civilian deaths.

    The other side quite possibly is doing everything in it’s power to kill as many civilians as possible….

    I’ve read Hizbollah puts ballbearings into it’s rockets to make them deadlier to Israeli civilians. And that it fires from pickup trucks in Lebanon’s residential areas, then moves, leaving the civilians to bear the returned fire….hoping it seems, for the resultant deaths to make for great propaganda.

    Those doctored Reuter photos portray an opposite reality

    Did yesterday’s picture doctoring expose’ threw a monkey wrench into the “massacre of 40” that turned out to be 1 death?

    As one LGF’r “RaiderDan” spoofed:

    “Actually, Green Helmet Guy and his reefer truck of bodies just couldn’t make it to the scene fast enough before CNN, Reuters AFP arrived….

    “Where are the 40 bodies?”

    “Uh, uh, we’re unburying them right now!”

    “How do you know you had 40 then?”

    “What, are you a Zionist Jew?”

    “Sorry, can you make it 100? Sounds better on TV…”

  • Early Qana bloggers got it wrong because an Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen’l got it wrong, a factor of fog of war. He asked why the building was hit at midnight and collapsed at 7am. Early bloggers seized on this and started to cry foul because the pictures didn’t match that story. The bodies of the children had rigor mortis and if the building fell at 7am they shouldn’t be that dead.

    However! In the end there are still some unresolved questions about Qana. Primary is why only 28 bodies were actually reported by the Lebanese Red Cross although 59 was the number that the media got. Also of interest is why, at midnight, the only people in the building are women and children. Presumably it’s because the adult males are all at work trying to be martyrized. Such a suggestion is not worthy of the mainstream news, which is why the bloggers must make it.

    So what if they waited until the media arrived to start pulling out the bodies?

    Because some of the bodies were probably alive earlier. They look bad, but mostly dirty, not crushed in half, etc.

    Why do the photos show that the blogger has an agenda?

    Because Hezbollah so carefully manages what happens in their zones of control that it’s unimaginable that Reuters’ star flack gets front-and-center access to the very best, most Pulitzer-producing shots if he’s going to question their story.

    Other photographers have noticed similar Hezbollah “stage management” and refuse to shoot it.

    And frankly I don’t know the difference between changing that image for purposes of bias and changing that image for purposes of access.

  • Michael

    Lets not rewrite history. The bombing wasnt deliberate but was because of faulty intelligence.

    ‘they look bad, but mostly dirty, not crushed in half, etc’.

    They were in the basement. Three floors crashed in. It doesnt matter what the actual cause … it was the consequence of an Israeli bombing.

    The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), citing local Red Cross and hospital records, said the 28 people confirmed to have died included 16 children.

    “It now appears that at least 22 people escaped the basement,” the group added in a statement. According to its investigation, most of the victims belonged to the Shalhub and Hashim families.

    Thirteen people remain unaccounted for, and some Qana residents fear they are buried in the rubble, although recovery efforts have stopped, HRW says.

    Of course, Hezbollah does some stage management as does Israel but I think the death toll, dispalacement says enough. To say the relatives were in Hexbollah is pure conjecture. just beacuse Israel, tells them they should leave S. Lebannon (expelling them) does not mean they must.

    One picture will not make or break this conflict, it up to the politicans now .. not bloggers.

  • Jeff,

    Could you elaborate on why LGF is “controversial” and not just plain “LGF”?

  • Ravo

    (More lgf commentor spoofs on the “massacre in Houla ” story:)


    Well it was gunna be 40 killed …. we had the pics… well sorry no story here.



    One [terrorist] victim killed instead of 40?

    Honest mistake.
    Green helmet guy wheeled the victim around the block on his gurney 40 times. The [propaganda] news crew assumed it was 40 different guys.

    The death count would have been alot higher but Green Helmet guy isn’t in the shape he used to be in. He couldnt do more than 40 laps.

    “thank God they have been saved.”

    a miracle, I tell you, a miracle.


    Watching all the coverage of this conflict, it seems like this pattern is repeating…repeating…repeating…repe ating….oops, my words got all photochopped.

  • Ravo

    While the comments at LGF are often “controversial”, just as here or at any weblog, Charles Johnson, the owner and author, has more integrity in his left pinky to portray the truth then can probably be found anymore, anywhere in the MSM.

  • penny

    Please back up your claim that the photographer has an agenda (other that getting his photos printed).

    Reuters has pulled all 920 of his photos for review. His employer is concerned that he has had an agenda. Is that commonsense enough for you?

    Jeff, the Reuters photographer in question is Lebanese. Only an idiot could believe that Reuters has clean hands in this. Wouldn’t you think that a Reuters’ editor, responsible for overseeing fair and balanced reporting, should have been more scrutinizing surely knowing this?

    Today, a Norwegian journalist admitted he made up interviews.

    Another lack of editor oversight. How many Jason Blairs are really out there?

    Nicholas Lemann can dream on. The “professionalism” of journalism is self-designated, conferred upon themselves, rather than awarded by others. Like the insular Catholic church during the pedophile scandals, these arrogant elitists are clueless to the implosion happening in front of their noses. Their product is crappy. The public knows it. Circulations are falling. News viewership is declining. Trust is falling fast. MSM journalists, my guess, would probably rank below used car salesmen at this point in time by popular vote.

  • One wonders why anyone, especially a photographer and journalist, would feel compelled to amplify war. No matter what side you are on, does anyone really need to make war worse?


    Civil War photographer Matthew Arnold was guilty of “arranging” the corpses on battlefields in order to maximize their photogenicity, so I’m afraid that this problem is as old as the medium. At least the fact-checking moves a little faster these days…

  • David R. Block

    This is getting to the point where “If we can make Israel or the US look worse, then by whatever means necessary, do it.” Another moment of “fake, but accurate.” Right. I’ll be looking for the Al Reuters sourcing and promptly discount the information. Much like “See BS” News.

    Of course, that’s been the MSM theme since 1968.

    Yes, I’m getting to be an old fart, why do you ask?

  • where there’s smoke. there’s Flying Saucers!
    bottom photo

  • Ravo

    What a different world we may have had today, had the blogosphere been present to expose distortions in 1968:

    Imagine if we’d had this mighty tool, the Internet, in 1968 and had been able to tell the American public the truth about the Tet Offensive (an overwhelming victory for American and South Vietnamese troops, in which the VietCong were destroyed as an effective fighting force). We would be living in a very different, and probably much better, world today.

    If not for Reagan,

    the media (and “Uncle Walter”) might well have destroyed America through its false reporting on Tet. The damage to our nation’s psyche was severe.

  • Ravo

    A view of Reuter’s captions. Do your own bias check.

    “Humans hurt Lebanese, but inanimate objects hurt Israelis, according to Reuters.”

    A review of the pics and captions here:

  • Kevin Peters

    Lovely logic. “So what if they doctor photos, so what if they manipulate the truth, I going to get my news from them anyway.” Translation- They give me what I want, I’m going to buy it even if it is fake.

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  • Ravo

    New Vocabulary Word – “reutered”

    Merely say it’s been “reutered”, and you need to say no more.

  • Jh

    Was the Iwo Jima pciture a case of stage management ? Certainly looked like it.

  • Ken

    Is it me or has Jeff changed since he started working for the Guardian? This post is so deliberately ‘well balanced’, that it comes across as bloodless and calculating. Reuters mistakes are consistently and objectively pro-terrorism. I would expect you to be all over them for this, but for some reason you’re not.

    You did not hedge on how you saw the 911 terrorists. Are you now going to extra lengths to avoid the political rot in the left-wing MSM (not just their other forms of decline)? If some nutball jihadist gets enraged by doctored photos and kills a bunch of kids (or Jewish women), do you feel you need to balance that story to avoid offending your Guardian readers?

  • PSGInfinity


    Actually, yes it was, come to think of it. The flag-raisers raised a smaller flag, and All Thought It Good*. Then the photohog came up with the idea of a bigger flag, another raising , and a different camera angle.

    Result: Pure Magic®…

    *Well, I suppose the Japanse defenders didn’t appreciate it much. As if we care..

  • penny

    Was the Iwo Jima pciture a case of stage management ? Certainly looked like it.

    So, JH, your point being that if the Iwo Jima photo of that noble event and cause was staged – surely you aren’t suggesting the event never happened – then, Reuters might have some historical justification for their antics? I think I get where you are going with this, right?

    Your seemingly innocent inquiry, as I see it, an apology for Reuters? I’m not sure if I understand the symmetry you want to convey.

    Or, perhaps, I’ve missed your point? Iwo Jim bad, Reuters not so bad?

  • penny

    Reuters mistakes are consistently and objectively pro-terrorism

    “Mistakes”? I hope you are being facetious. Reuters’ editors and photographer weren’t being careless. They got caught. End of story.

    A good question to Jeff though. When staring at the face of evil in the WOT now or the back in the 1930’s when does balance become immoral?

  • Jeff — I could not post at the Guardian site — I found the anti-Semitism to be too chokingly toxic.

    With all due respect, I fear you have gravely understated the case against Adnan Hajj (and a good number of his colleagues at Reuters and elsewhere). He does not merely have an agenda. He is an enemy propagandist, whose goal is to abet terrorists in their destruction of Western Civilization.

    Why did he make the smoke darker, when there was already plenty of smoke?

    As has been documented by Powerline, LGF, EU Referendum, My Pet Jawa, and countless other blogs, Hajj systematically and routinely “makes the smoke darker” (whether the “smoke” is an explosion, a missile, a blown bridge, or a “mourning victim”). There are no fewer than 6 clearly documented cases out there right now, and more will undoubtedly emerge in the coming days.

    He was not a journalist who went over the line for dramatic effect. He was a holy warrior posing as a journalist, but never losing sight of his true mission.

  • Kat

    Hajj is probably a hezbollah tool like Reuters, The Guardian, etc.

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  • Eileen


    Extremely well-stated.

    Why expand/stage/doctor the smoke/buildings/body count, etc., as done by Hajj and too many others? To demonize Israel and their infidel supporters, just like the MSM does with regard to each and EVERY topic related to Islamobarbarists daily. Ooohhh, look how Israel is bombing Beirut into oblivion [that black smoke ‘fills the sky’ with Zionist evil]…[and it’s a modern tourist mecca, you know, the kind you Westerners like! (according to jihadis, anyway)]. Ooohhh, look at how Israel is killing that same child over and over again, but this time, look at that shiny new, blue, pristine binky around his neck over his dust-covered body. Ooohhh, look at how Israel is destroying that same woman’s house two weeks apart!!! And so on. And ON. AD NAUSEUM.

    ONE faked photograph? ONE faked montage? C’mon, already. Jihadists/their MSM whores just got caught in their own terrorist swill, big time.

    ‘Oh what tangled webs they weave, when they are trying to deceive.’

    The MSM are shills for Islamic terrorists. But one doesn’t have to view their faked photographs or video to know that. One could also simply read or listen to their fake/biased propogandist news coverage, their fake captions and their commentary, daily.

    I highly recommend that ALL read both the news And comments at LGF. It’s the only way you’re going to know what’s really going on in this world any more. ‘Allah’ knows the MSM won’t help you find news in any realm even bordering on reality.

    Controversial LGF? I repeat Captious Nut’s question. Controversial????

    Only in a world where insane terrorists and their MSM whores are running the asylum.

    Sure hope you leave Al-Guardian soon, Jeff.

  • Michael

    Spin, Pr, fronts. The fact is that world opinion is againstt his Israeli offensive (not defensive action).. We have apologists for cruelty in this forum .. how can you make a blown up bridge , building, powers station, roads staged. We now have people saying mourning relatives of 1,000 dead civilains are staged. Get a grip. I dont care what a few right wing bloggers barricaded in their bedroom watching Fox have to say about the conflict. I rather get live broadcasts and news from respected and trusted journalists. If you understand that Israel, the US, Hezbollah as humans are equally as capable for cruel acts, then its maybe a start. Especially, in a morning when it was reported US soldiers, accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, drank alcohol and hit golf balls before the attack.

  • Michael

    Annan: Israel raid may be part of pattern

    By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer
    Mon Aug 7, 11:35 PM ET

    Israel’s air raid on in the Lebanese town of Qana, which killed 28 people, may be part of a larger pattern of violations of international law in the war between Israel and Hezbollah, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report Monday.

    In that light, Annan said that the July 30 attack was sufficiently serious to merit a more comprehensive investigation.

    The attack should be seen “in the broader context of what could be, based on preliminary information available to the United Nations … a pattern of violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed during the course of the current hostilities,” Annan wrote.

  • T.

    Malcolm Gladwell had a recent debate on his blog about how blogs simply regurgitate news. Stories like this and Memogate show that blogs do more than just parrot the news, they force them to be accountable for their mistakes.

  • Andy Freeman

    > Especially, in a morning when it was reported US soldiers, accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, drank alcohol and hit golf balls before the attack.

    Why is what they did before the attack relevant? Would the rapes have been acceptable if they’d prayed to Allah or watched Coronation Street?

    What? It isn’t? Then why the high-horse over the alcohol and golf balls?

    > We now have people saying mourning relatives of 1,000 dead civilains are staged.

    After all, everyone knows that you can’t stage more than 253 deaths.

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  • I R A Darth Aggie

    Especially, in a morning when it was reported US soldiers, accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old Iraqi girl

    The difference being that they’ll face a courts-martial, and if the evidence is against them, they’ll be sent to the stockade.

    The crimes of rape and murder carry the death penalty, according to the UCMJ. So their time in the stockade might be a bit shorter than they would otherwise see.

    You’ll let us know when Hezbollah stops targeting civilians with their rockets, ok?

    As far as Kofi goes, HE is part of the problem. This is the same man who saw no evil in Rwanda – even tho that region was part of his duty station at the time. He has no authority, moral or otherwise, to point fingers of blame.

  • LT

    you said
    “I rather get live broadcasts and news from respected and trusted journalists”. Please tell me that after this Reuter’s fiasco, you’re willing to elaborate a little bit on “respected and trusted”.

    “If you understand that Israel, the US, Hezbollah as humans are equally as capable for cruel acts, then its maybe a start.” I don’t think anyone is disputing that. I expect you to accept your own logic, first of all, by acknowledging that Hezbollah initiated this round of conflict. From what i read, you seem set on defending those whose primary aim is the destruction of a particular people by any means necessary. What else, could Hezbollah want? Israel has already withdrawn from Lebanon, so Hezbollah’s claims of “we’ll not attack you if you don’t attack us” seems to go without merit. Also, if we are going to expore UN violations, let start with why Hezbollah hasn’t disarmed, and why they continue to launch rocket attacks against civilians. Finally, when you can prove to me, that the overwhelming majority of US Soldiers/sailors/airmen are represented by the callous actions of those few who MAY BE GUILTY of rape and murder, please let me know.


  • David Logan

    Poor Micheal, a classic example of someone who believes everything the liberal media tell him. Micheal refuses to believe that Hizb’Allah, whose goal is to wipe out Jews from the Middle East, might resort to staging photo opportunities to inflame hatred of Israel. How naive. We have apologists for terrorism in this forum. Micheal believes that the genocidal murderers of Hizb are equivalent to the Isrealis . Do the Israelis wish to drive Muslims from the Middle East ? No. Has Israel spoken of wiping Lebanon off the map ? No. Hezb cheer when they kill Israeli civilians, Israel apologizes when it kills Lebanese civilians. Israel shelters it’s civilians in bomb shelters, Hezb terrorists shelter amongst Lebanese civilians.Micheal doesn’t want to know the truth – he only wants his views reinforced by lazy MSM hacks who wear their left-wing bias as some kind of symbol of pride.

  • Eileen

    LT is that you?

    So very, very good to hear your voice again! You’ve been missed here. I hope you’re well!

    Waving across the internet to you with pride….and gratitude, as always.

  • LT

    ‘Tis me Eileen. Thankfully back safe and sound in my home, way down south, with my wife and daughter and youngster to be. Still on duty, but no longer overseas. I sometimes stop by to see who’s around. I see that you’ve kept up the good work. I can say that my guys/gals and i appreciate very much the support that you and others gave us while deployed. See you (or your comments) soon.


  • As a footnote to the above, here is a very interesting article by Seymour Hersh (no smoke and mirrors here)

    A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preemptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.”

    and a “message” for the wise –

    According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term (…) Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”