Sunday, October 22, 2006

Once more unto the breach...

A couple of weeks ago I pointed out (see: Lebanon's 'pieta' photographer explains himself.) that the guy who took the picture shown above, Tyler Hicks, had started a thread at the Lightstalkers web site (a web site frequented by professional photographers) to highlight an article he wrote giving his explanation for the story behind the controversial photo (one of many from the recent conflict in Lebanon/Israel). The article, with lengthy discussion thread, is here.

In short, Hicks explained that he had given the correct caption description to the New York Times, and it was they who screwed it up -- something they admitted. A number of bloggers linked to the article as a point of information, crediting Hicks with providing the illumination. Most didn't probe much deeper, taking it as "fair enough" and seemingly moving on.

I had found the thread through an anonymous email (not an infrequent occurrence around here), and began following not only the Hicks story itself, but the comment thread that followed it. That comment thread is interesting for several reasons, not just because there are still issues with that photograph and photojournalism in general (I don't need to spend too much time on what some of those issues blog readers, you encounter them frequently), but also for the very interesting dynamic happening there in the comments. I watched with fascination as one courageous professional photog actually grasp the deeper issues troubling both that specific picture and his profession more generally, and then his subsequent failing efforts to get his colleagues to see and address them. The dynamics of internet communities are another fascination of mine. This guy was committing hara-kiri in his, but he didn't stop.

If you've ever wanted to see a profession in crisis and denial, take a look at that comment thread.

First, let me try to sum up the remaining issues surrounding that picture, as I recognize them and see them argued there. Let's focus on this short quote from Hicks's article:

I did not see any casualties on my arrival. I photographed the search effort, but otherwise there were no injured or dead visible. Soon there was a panic among the people that Israeli jets were coming overhead and would strike again. This sent the gathering crowd running away from the scene, which is a difficult task over the jagged cement and exposed rebar of a collapsed building.

In the commotion, one man fell from a considerable height onto his back and was seriously injured. He was then helped by others who rushed him to an ambulance. A well-known Associated Press photographer also photographed the injured man as he was carried through the street to an ambulance. Given the complexity of the situation, the AP photographer and I discussed our captions that evening.

This leaves us with several issues to examine. Note that we can find a number of other photos taken at that scene. I have collected them together on a single page, here. They are interesting for a number of characteristics, notably that there doesn't seem to be much panic in them, nor much of anywhere one would call a "considerable height" (the building is flattened), though that's certainly a judgement call. In our "pieta" photo above, you can see plenty of people in the background, not really moving much at all...did they return already? And, of course, we still have the odd composition of the unconscious man and how he got into the debris just so, where he fell from, why he's holding his hat, why people are still in the background (almost as though they were allowing that good photo op to run while they stayed out?)...

Some speculation? The event occurs, finally, near the hotel (this is Tyre, not Beirut), the media gets there quickly, but there are no casualties as the building was empty, and finally, "things start happening" for the photographers to shoot. It's not a capital offense, the photogs need some shots, the people around start doing things to give them something to take pictures of. I bet some of you reading this have even experienced this phenomenon. I know I have.

A lot of this could be cleared up, or at least clarified, if Hicks or someone else who was there released their "rushes" -- the rest of the pictures they took that day.

Does this seem like an obsession over this one photo? It is! But remember, it's not about this one photo, it's about photojournalism in general, and getting at the truth (or perhaps a little more honesty) behind this one shot could be instructive.

But enough about the picture, because that's not what this posting is about. I'm not here to tell you about photos, I'm here to tell you about photographers -- their delusions, their insularity, their siege mentality, their guild consciousness, their omerta...and their hatred for blogs (and bloggers!) and any of their fellows who dare step out of line.

Like I said, let's take a look at that comment thread. It really starts to get weird when Daniel Pearl is mentioned. It seems that there are people there who are so hung up on the illusion of impartiality, that they actually blame the blogs who have exposed the issues hanging over the press for the ill-repute they find themselves in...and thus they blame them for the death of journalists like Daniel Pearl. They're even blaming bad Amazon reviews of Hicks's book on people who would dare to question. You don't have to read the whole thread, it's long and repetitive, but things start getting squirrely just before my comments (no permalink -- look for October 15th) and after.

Let me extract some of the choicer quotes. The interested can dig further for themselves. Remember, these are professionals.

Gayle F. Hegland of something called Illustrators' Partnership was a frequent thread contributor and she has some of the best quotes:

So I guess now, LS is being monitored by blogger extremists. [shortly after my posts]

...As far as I’m concerned blogger extremists and their associates can go to hell right along with Al Queda…..and, of course, nothing personal either to members of Al Queda out there… yeah, right.

...You know normal people out here don’t even look at extremist blogs because we know what end of the bull the shit comes out of and exactly why.

The only "biased" people in this thread are apparently those who dare to ask questions, including those in the profession who dare step out of line. Tewfic El-Sawy:

“So I guess now, LS is being monitored by blogger extremists.”

in one word: yes.

this thread and some others has shed the light on who’s who…and exposed motives and bias to all to see. [Clarification: He's not talking about his own bias, the potential bias of other photographers quoted here or those who agree with them. He's talking about those who ask too many questions.]

In response to this posed fauxtography sequence, Max Whittaker writes:

Solomon: Who took these photos? Did you and your video game buddies set this up in your backyard, took some happy snaps and posted them on the web?...

...because of course, I have collapsed buildings in my back yard.

A guy named Sion Touhig (he has a blog, btw) is one of the more verbose participants. At one point he writes:

...Cool! More room for the bullet-blogs! All of us journos can just die like Terry Lloyd or the 11 Iraqi TV station employees executed four days ago, or get thrown into jail like Sami Al-Haj (a cameraman rotting in Guantanamo Bay for nearly 5 years without charge), because we are of course all lying, unpatriotic, Photoshop abusing scum who deserve everything we get, and have got everything so, SO wrong…

...unlike murder-bloggers like Malkin, who have only been around five minutes, but have consistently trumpeted and cheered for a kill-fest which has so far, put up to 600,000 civilians through a meatgrinder.

That should be enough of a sampling to give you a lay of the land.

Now, I can understand the exasperation with a poster who won't just let an issue drop, and I also know the feeling of getting caught up in a thread and not being able to let it drop until you feel like you've broken through that wall you've been banging your head into (something that almost never happens)...but that's all another issue. The real issue is the lack of self-examination and venomous defensiveness on display here. Now imagine you work in a news room with people like this and are starting to have doubts about what you're seeing around you and you'd like to speak out...

Good luck.


Of course he staged the photo, the guy's acting as if his body is limp as the guy standing over him is trying to pull him up... give me a break... and his hat is neatly folded next to him?

LOL.... you mean even people in the blogger community bought Hicks's bullshit explanation?



Amazing. And they wonder why people don't trust the media?

This issue is one of assymetry.

The photogs can do what they want, but they are not in a position to make people believe them.

The way to get people to believe you is to have a reputation for honesty.

The way to get people to ignore you--at best--is to have a reputation for dishonesty.

At this point, the media have to struggle with the second case, which they earned fair and square, and, more to this point, so to photographers.

How long does it take to regain a rep for honesty after you've been caught screwing the pooch?


Great job of summarizing the entire episode. I noted that Charles at LGF has linked to this. Kind of related, but I did put up my thoughts on the CNN snuff film at
The manipulation of images and information by most of the media no longer surprises me. Guess they have their agenda, but at least we have forums now that can counter that agenda.


It was worth ploughing through all their bickering, petty comments. Quite an illuminating response from the the Cult of the 3rd Estate. Their arrogance, immaturity and reactionary hysteria is beyond belief. With such contempt for their public, it is no surprise to find so many examples of unprofessionalism in their ranks.

The day I saw the Pieta image, last July, I published the following post on my blog noting the Pieta imagery the Times was going for:

I have reprinted the post dated today.

The New York Times can say what it wants; but it got caught red handed implying that the man was injured by an Israeli attack. The only way a person would have known that the image was staged would have been to follow the link on the online version of the image accompanying the article (entitled "Tyre Reels From Attacks That Never Fail To Shock") to the full sized version, where the caption indicated that the man had merely fallen in the wreckage.

My comment then also still stands: Israel took down an empty ten story building. Obviously, someone knew it was a target, because it was empty.

Someone should bring up this picture by Tyler Hicks. The face in the lower-right corner is clearly Photoshopped, and sophisticated image analysis can show it to be so.

This has all the hallmarks of a conspiracy of fools. And that's the thing with the conspiracy freaks - they so desperately want the conspiracy to be true, that they latch on to any detail and invest it with monumental significance, eg the hat.

The guy fell over, and was carted off to an ambulance. Big deal. Get over it.

"The New York Times can say what it wants; but it got caught red handed implying that the man was injured by an Israeli attack." - John.

A red handed implication. What rubbish.

Did you watch the slide show that Hicks photo appeared in? Other photos appeared in the same sequence that didn't fit their caption. It was a classic case of recycling news and resources to save time and money.

All this fuss over a what might be "implied"! Just a reality check for everyone - the NYT didn't claim that the man was rescued from the rubble, in any way, shape or form.

It's all about what some claim to be an implication. Implications are in the eye of the beholder.

The folks who post their drive-by few sentences of brain leakage and then turn around with bloody pitchforks (yet dripping from skewering the last person who challenged the PC goddess) do not impress ; they are the last breed of the shadow-empire builders who have created a killing fields of truth, honesty, and reporting on the real world as it is. They are threatened and now they spout off bitter venom; let them bray, for their time is short.

eyal was asking some very valid questions. As such, photojournalists should be willing to provide answers. That Hicks has been unresponsive to the questions that the "pieta" picture raises does not do him any good. The New York Times using the wrong caption was well-known to many of the bloggers who iniatially questioned it. But questions remain. How did the hat remain so securely between the arm and body?

It's sad to know that some photojournalists are not willing to ask these valid questions and then go on to disparge a fellow photojournalist when he does so.


The image was published along with a NYT article titled "Tyre Reels From Attacks That Never Fail To Shock." The clear implication of the image, which was published alongside that article with no caption, was that the man was injured in an Israeli attack.

I did look at the series of images which were linked at the time, and the caption there did indicate that the man had fallen in the rubble; but the article to which I was referring had no caption, and was therefore misleading.

I can never understand conservatives complaining about the liberal media. It's a free market people! If you think the NYTimes and its photographers are involved in some vast left-wing conspiracy, get off your fat ass and start photographing and publishing the truth as you see it.

Bloggers are just wanna-be journos that are happy to critique from the pedestal, but don't have the skills or cajones to get out in the field where things are dangerous, messy, and don't fit neatly into right/wrong or liberal/conservative boxes. It's far easier to sit at home and speculate, bitch, and moan on the web.

It's not a 'free market' for conservatives who want to work in the media. If you don't have the liberal bona fides to prove who you are, you don't get hired.

The idea that lefties just happened to end up running our news media and universities is laughable.


Pure horse manure. I've worked in the news business for almost 10 years, and never once has my political views been brought up in a job interview or otherwise.

In fact, a co-worker was severely reprimanded and nearly fired for participating in a "liberal" political demonstration on her own time.

Your excuse is easy and lame, and really a poor example for conservatives. Stop finding ways to make excuses and actually DO something.

Right, Homer, I'm just imagining media types are biased. I'm certain nobody asks about your political leanings in a job interview. You'd never have been granted the interview were you a conservative.

Please, the fact is that nine tenths of "journalists," (whatever that means) admit that they are politically left leaning. Nobody needs to ask. In fact, it's usually too plain from the resume.

Also, the anecdote you brought up proves only one thing: that the cardinal sin amongst lefty journalists has always been to have their political bias revealed beyond plausible deniability. Dan Rather got away with this for years.

"The idea that lefties just happened to end up running our news media and universities is laughable." - John

The idea that lefties are running our news media is laughable.

It's the problem of zealotry. If the news doesn't report exacly what I think in the terms that I demand, then it's a vast media conspiracy.

No, it's called a range of opinion, yes, even including ones you don't like. Desperately wanting to find errors and call them bias is grasping at straws, and not very big ones.

I won't quibble with your supposition that nine-tenths of journalists have liberal political leanings. But that doesn't mean they're injecting their politics into their work. That's a huge stretch. That's like me saying that since Bush is an evangelical Christian, he dislikes and will discriminate against all non-Christians. Do you believe that to be true?

The reason why conservatives aren't journalists is because they don't like to spend years living in poverty while they work their way up the ranks. They're primarily concerned with finding a job that makes them the most amount of money for their skill set. Nothing wrong with that, it just means they're not journalists.d

The "Pieta" photo was ANOTHER STAGED photo.

The excellent website ZOMBIETIME has a detailed expose of this FRAUD.

Scroll down 2/3rds of the way down or search for text string "gateway" to quickly get to the detailed analysis.

"And in this final picture, the same man is seen -- easily identifiable by his trunks, his hat pressed under his arm, and his distinctive nose -- seemingly pretending to be dead as someone else tries to lift his "fallen comrade.""

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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