MARCH 30, 2003
PHOTO BY BRIAN WALSKI / THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
The photograph, taken in the earliest days of the Iraq invasion, shows a British soldier warning a group of Iraqi civilians to take cover from nearby fire.
First published on the front of The Los Angeles Times, the image also ran in the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant. The caption published in the March 31, 2003 Los Angeles Times reads: “Warning: A British soldier manning the Azubayr Bridge orders fleeing Basra residents to hit the dirt as Iraqi forces open fire.”
The published photo is a composite of two images taken seconds apart. After the Hartford Courant published the image, a Courant employee noticed a duplication of civilians in the background. The Los Angeles Times confronted Walski, who confessed to having digitally merged the two photographs to improve the composition.
Walski was immediately fired for violating the newspaper’s code of ethics. In an apology to the Times, Walski said: “I have always maintained the highest ethical standards throughout my career and cannot truly explain my complete breakdown in judgment at this time.”
“The widely published image, of an armed British soldier and Iraqi civilians under hostile fire in Basra seems to show the soldier gesturing at the civilians – urging them to seek cover – as a standing man holding a young child in his arms seems to look at the soldier imploringly. It’s the kind of picture that wins a Pulitzer.”
– The Washington Post, “Manipulating Truth, Losing Credibility”
PYRAMIDS OF GIZA, EGYPT
PHOTO BY GORDON GAHAN
The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt on the cover of the February, 1982 issue of National Geographic magazine by Gordon Gahan.
This National Geographic magazine cover demonstrated one of the earliest high-profile cases of digital photo manipulation. The horizontal image was altered to fit the vertical cover, shifting the two pyramids closer together. When the issue was publicly released, the photographer, Gordon Gahan, saw the cover and complained.
In a 1984 article in The New York Times, Fred Ritchin wrote that “Wilbur E. Garrett, the Geographic’s editor, defends the modification, seeing it not as a falsification but merely the establishment of a new point of view, as if the photographer had been retroactively moved a few feet to one side.” Ritchin sees this case as the beginning of the digital era in photography.
The manipulation damaged the magazine’s credibility. Tom Kennedy, who became National Geographic’s Director of Photography after the incident, stated: “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today.”
Although lesser discussed, Gahan reportedly paid the men to repeatedly ride across the frame to get the photo he wanted.
National Review’s October 1, 2012 cover features an image shot from behind Barack Obama as he delivers a speech at the Democratic National Convention in early September, 2012. The cheering crowd before him waves blue signs saying “ABORTION.”
In the original photo, the signs read, “FORWARD.” National Review, a conservative news magazine, changed each sign to read, “ABORTION.” They credited the photographer and Reuters news agency, but failed to indicate the photo was altered.
Possibly worse than editing an image to get it published is not publishing an image at all because of the material encapsulated in the photograph?