August 12, 2006
by David Kopel
If you see a news photograph of the war in Lebanon, shot from within Hezbollah territory, can you be confident the picture and caption are accurate? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Earlier this week, Reuters fired photographer Adnan Hajj and withdrew his portfolio of 920 pictures after Little Green Footballs, The Jawa Report, and many other weblogs provided evidence that Hajj had used digital editing and other techniques to fake numerous photos of the Lebanon war.
On July 31, the Newsand Postran the sensational front page photo of a "rescue worker" shouting while he carried the body of a child who was killed by an Israeli bomb in Qana, Lebanon. The photograph was taken by Nasser Nasser of The Associated Press. Substantial evidence suggests the photograph was not spontaneous.
British journalist Richard D. North was one of the founding writers of The Independent.He later wrote for the Sunday Times, and is currently media fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. On his weblog, eureferendum.blogspot.com, North presents evidence about the staging of the Qana photos.
In an Aug. 5 report titled "Qana - the director's cut," North compiles Qana photos from the still pictures and videos shot by the media there. (Among the photographers at Qana was Reuters' soon-to-be-fired Hajj.) The video evidence shows that a man directing the operation is a Hezbollah supporter; a TV France 2 interview from his house reveals his personal Hezbollah shrine.
Many photographs, including the front-page Newsand Postphotograph, appear to be staged. The two "rescuers" in the pictures that were published worldwide are the man in the white T-shirt and a man in a green helmet. While carrying the bodies on a short path where the photographers are clustered, they wail copiously and cry in anguish, holding up the corpses for display. Before and after the "camera run," they display little emotion and treat the children's bodies callously. They make sure one rescuer completes his camera run before the next rescuer leaves the building for his own camera run.
Some television footage, available on www.youtube.com (titled "eye witness") appears to show staging. While an interview is taking place, a couple of men carrying a body on a stretcher come around a corner; they set the stretcher down and wait for photographers to get in position before they pick up the stretcher and resume walking forward.
A clip from the German TV network Norddeutscher Rundfunk shows the "civil defense worker" featured on the front page of the Denver papers ordering journalists to "keep on filming" and "better images must be shot." He directs the corpse to be removed from an ambulance, placed on a stretcher, and posed for the cameras. (www.youtube.com/watch? v=4vPAkc5CLgc).
According to the daily Web newsmagazine Israel Insider, "Journalists were not allowed near the collapsed building." The Christian Lebanese Web site Libanoscopie cited an anonymous source stating Hezbollah had placed a rocket launcher on top of the building, then herded disabled children inside, hoping to create a massacre.
I e-mailed some questions to Linda Wagner, the AP's director of media relations and public affairs. She sidestepped my question about access to the building, stating: "We know that, generally, access to combat sites for journalists in Lebanon is greater than it has been for journalists operating within Israel, Iraq or Afghanistan."
On July 22, Reuters published a photo of a woman crying because Israeli planes had just destroyed her apartment. (See drinkingfromhome.blogspot. com, Aug. 6 entry). On Aug. 5, the AP published a photo of the same woman in Beirut, crying because Israeli planes had just destroyed her house.
Regarding the woman's claims, Wagner said, "We will not speculate." More precisely, it could be said the AP's decision to publish the photo and to attach a statement repeating the woman's claim as fact was based on speculation the woman was telling the truth.
Something else the AP will not do is release the original files of its Qana photos so the internal digital time stamps on the photos can be examined. At the least, such examination would reveal the time interval between various photos, which would provide evidence regarding whether the photos were staged.
Asked about the German network's video, Wagner replied: "There are gruesome realities in all war zones that result from war's death and destruction. Victims of such destruction sometimes want the world to see its results.
"The full sequence of AP photos and captions from the incident at Qana on July 30 reflect that reality.
"In AP's captions, the man in the green helmet was identified as a civil defense worker, and we have confirmed that he is in charge of civil defense in Tyre, which is near Qana.
"Partisans on both sides of a conflict will interpret images of that conflict in different ways. AP strives to stick to the facts."
Fair enough, but that does not mean the media should cooperate with "victims" (or Hezbollah operatives) in producing staged or posed photos. On Aug. 1, the AP, Reuters and Agence France Press released a joint statement "strongly denying that the images were staged." In light of the videos, those denials are implausible.
Bob Newman of KOA-AM (850) investigated a July 31 Timemagazine photo, which the caption said was "the wreckage of a downed Israeli jet." Actually, the fire in the background of the photo was coming from burning tires in a garbage dump. After being contacted by Newman, Timecorrected the photo and apologized. The dump apparently began to burn after some nearby Hezbollah rocket launchers were hit by the Israelis, and a Hezbollah rocket may have misfired into the garbage dump.
The same overly dramatized burning garbage dump appears in the background of an AP photo captioned: "A Hezbollah gunman aims his AK-47 at a fire caused by an explosion in Kfarshima, near Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, July 17, 2006" (www.riehlworldview.com, Aug. 8), while the cover of the July 31 U.S. News & World Reportfeatured the Hezbollah gunman in the foreground with the sensational flames and smoke in the background.
Most of this article's sources, which have provided evidence about misleading photographs from Lebanon, have been compiled by people who support Israel in its war with Hezbollah, as do I. Notwithstanding the media critics, Hezbollah has, in the war for Western public opinion, sometimes succeeded in subverting Western news organizations into organs of its own propaganda. At Qana at least, it appears that the media may have been complicit in the production of controlled, staged images using dead children as props, which were falsely presented to the public as authentic, spontaneous photos of a rescue operation.
Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute, an attorney and author of 10 books. He can be reached at davekopel@RockyMountainNews.com.