CNN's Nguyen failed to challenge claims that Qana photos were staged

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

CNN's Betty Nguyen left unchallenged the suggestion by blogger Charles Johnson that photographs taken after the July 30 Israeli air strike in Qana, Lebanon, were staged "for propaganda purposes," and that "Hezbollah controls a lot of the pictures and a lot of the media that you see coming out of Lebanon." In fact, Reuters, the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse -- each of which has published photos from Qana -- have all denied allegations that photographs were staged.

On the August 7 edition of CNN's Live From ... , host Betty Nguyen left unchallenged the suggestion by blogger Charles Johnson that photographs taken after the July 30 Israeli air strike in Qana, Lebanon, that killed at least 28 civilians, many of them children, were staged "for propaganda purposes," and that "Hezbollah controls a lot of the pictures and a lot of the media that you see coming out of Lebanon." In fact, Reuters, the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) -- each of which has published photos from Qana -- have all denied allegations that photographs were staged.

The Reuters photographs at Qana were taken by freelance photographer Adnan Hajj, who was suspended by Reuters. Reuters stated that it took action "after he [Hajj] doctored an image of the aftermath of an Israeli air strike on Beirut." But a Reuters article on August 7 announcing Hajj's suspension specifically denied accusations that the Qana photographs were staged:

He (Hajj) was among several photographers from the main international news agencies whose images of a dead child being held up by a rescuer in the village of Qana, south Lebanon, after an Israeli air strike on July 30 have been challenged by blogs critical of the mainstream media's coverage of the Middle East conflict.

Reuters and other news organizations reviewed those images and have all rejected allegations that the photographs were staged.

Johnson used the interview with Nguyen to forward a theory circulating in the right-wing blogosphere that, as Johnson wrote on his LittleGreenFootballs.com blog, "there's convincing evidence that the pictures from Qana were cynically staged and exploited in a way that will turn your stomach, as the Lebanese 'rescue worker' we see in many of these photos parades around with a dead child for four hours, even changing his clothes and continuing the exhibition." Similarly, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote in her August 2 syndicated column: "[H]ere is a suggestion for all the intrepid American journalists gallivanting with Hezbollah's handlers in the region: Perhaps you could put down the figurative hookah pipes, take off your sympathy hajibs and find out the identity of the green-helmeted guy holding up baby corpses in Qana as props for your sensational, page-one pictures." National Review Online editor at large and Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg, asked, "Was Qana Staged?" James Lewis, of the Americanthinker.com website, wrote on July 31: "The New York Times has announced that the entire world is outraged at Israel's behavior in bombing Qana. So it must be true. Or is it?"

The theory is based on time stamps of photographs taken by Reuters, AP, and AFP that purportedly show an inconsistency of events. One example of the theory circulated by the weblog EUReferendum.com is that photos of a girl in an ambulance have a time stamp earlier in the day than photos of the same girl before the ambulance arrived. After showing examples of the photographs and the time stamps they were filed under in an attempt to prove its theory, EUReferendum.com concluded "they have been staged for effect, exploiting the victims in an unwholesome manner." Malkin added to the theory in her column by suggesting that it took eight hours for the bodies to be recovered and asking: "To the photographer-stenographers who were herded to the scene eight hours after the strike, why is it that the bodies of the children were already in a state of rigor mortis?" An August 1 Associated Press article addressed the charges:

The AP said information from its photo editors showed the events were not staged, and that the time stamps could be misleading for several reasons, including that web sites can use such stamps to show when pictures are posted, not taken. An AFP executive said he was stunned to be questioned about it. Reuters, in a statement, said it categorically rejects any such suggestion.

[...]

There are also several reasons not to draw conclusions from time stamps, [AP director of photography Santiago] Lyon said. Following a news event like this, the AP does not distribute pictures sequentially; photos are moved based on news value and how quickly they are available for an editor to transmit.

The AP indicates to its members when they are sent on the wire, and member Web sites sometimes use a different time stamp to show when they are posted.

Furthermore, in a report by CNN correspondent Tim Lister that preceded Nguyen's interview with Johnson, Lister said that Johnson was behind the examining of "documents used by CBS News in its reporting of President George W. Bush's service in the Texas National Guard" two years ago. Lister's report repeated the false claim that Johnson "found the type style used proved they could not have been from 1972 as claimed." But as Media Matters for America has noted, an independent investigation into the story, which resulted in producer Mary Mapes's firing after its release, found that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece; the report noted evidence challenging the documents' authenticity but offered no conclusion about whether the documents were forgeries.

From the August 7 edition of CNN's Live From ... :

NGUYEN: A case now of journalistic license that cost a newsman his job. A freelance photographer suspended by a major wire service for breaking the No. 1 rule of responsible reporting. CNN's Tim Lister has the story.

[begin video clip]

LISTER: This is the photograph that launched 1,000 blogs. It shows the Beirut skyline shrouded in smoke. The caption reads, "Smoke billows from burning buildings destroyed during an overnight Israeli air raid." The photographer was Reuters' freelancer, Adnan Hajj.

But the plumes of smoke raised suspicions among bloggers, especially Charles Johnson of the site Little Green Footballs. He said smoke had been added to the image, probably using a Photoshop clone tool. Reuters pulled the photograph and posted the original on its website. The agency also disclosed it has learned that Adnan Hajj doctored another photo last week, increasing the number of flares being fired by an Israeli F-16 from one to three.

It's now suspended Hajj, whose recent work includes this front-page photograph in Saturday's New York Times. Reuters has also withdrawn all his photos from its database. Reuters said Hajj had denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the Beirut image, saying he was trying to remove dust marks and that he had made mistakes due to bad lighting conditions.

It's not the first time that Charles Johnson, who edits the blog Little Green Footballs from Los Angeles, has claimed a scalp. Two years ago he examined documents used by CBS News in its reporting of President George W. Bush's service in the Texas National Guard. And he found the type style used proved they could not have been from 1972 as claimed. CBS eventually withdrew the report and fired its producer. Tim Lister, CNN, Atlanta.

[end video clip]

NGUYEN: All right. So the man who discovered the photo was a fake, weblogger Charles Johnson joins me now live from Los Angeles. Charles, first of all, let's go through these two pictures, the original one and the one that was altered and tell me what was done exactly.

JOHNSON: Yes, well, if you see in the smoke plume at the upper left, you can see repeating patterns, sort of circular patterns, it's repeated three times through that.

NGUYEN: Yeah, you can. And it's darker, as well.

JOHNSON: Well -- yes, that's right. Photoshop has a tool called the clone tool which lets you basically make a copy of one section of an image and paste it into other places in the image, sort of like a rubber stamp. And that's what was done here. And as you can see in this image, there was also a duplication of buildings. So, basically, this photographer created an imaginary version of Beirut that did not really exist.

NGUYEN: All right, but the photographer says that he didn't deliberately manipulate this photo, that he was basically trying to get some dust marks off of that. Do you not buy that side of the story?

JOHNSON: I think that's a little bit straining credulity to say something like that because how could you accidentally create an entire imaginary city? It seems to make no sense.

NGUYEN: You've got a point there. It seems like, though, this is what is interesting to me. The original photo, if we can put it back up. That, in itself, seems powerful enough, why would someone even want to doctor it?

JOHNSON: It's strange, isn't it? And even more than that, what's amazing to me is that an editor did not catch this before the picture hit the news wires.

NGUYEN: Well, yeah, that was going to be my question to you. In looking at these two pictures, the original is the one that is on the right. Why do you think it is, I mean, because editors are there for a reason. You think they would have had the experience and the background to catch something if it's doctored.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

NGUYEN: Why is that you -- a blogger is the person who caught it?

JOHNSON: Well, I just happened to be the one. A reader of mine tipped me off to it, and I looked at the picture and instantly realized that it was a fake because I have an extensive background in image manipulation software and Web design and graphic design.

NGUYEN: Well, we do want to let you know that Reuters did, you know, as we mentioned, pull the picture, but they also issued this statement -- and we're going to put it up -- saying, "Manipulating photographs in this way is entirely unacceptable and contrary to all the principles of consistently being held by Reuters throughout its long and distinguished history." My question it you is this: This photographer in question here not only has his photos been pulled of this particular picture, but others as well. Does he have a history of doctoring photos?

JOHNSON: I don't know if he has a history of doctoring photos, but I think there were a number of questions raised about his participation in the Israeli bombing at Qana and possible staging of photos. Not doctoring, exactly, but staging bodies so that they could be photographed for propaganda purposes. That's the consensus of the opinion on the blogs that I read.

NGUYEN: So, with media being what it is and getting the information out there just as quickly as possible, is there a danger here of seeing more doctored photos? More fakes out there?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. Because you have to take into consideration that Hezbollah controls a lot of the pictures and a lot of the media that you see coming out of Lebanon, and so, I think that real questions need to be raised about the source of these images, and especially when they use local photographers to get these images.

NGUYEN: Well, you're one man, you caught this, but how, how can the rest of this be monitored? What needs to be done to prevent other fakes from getting out there?

JOHNSON: I'm one man, but there's an entire army of blogs and blog readers out there, and we can count on an enormous amount of scrutiny of the mainstream media for these types of issues.

NGUYEN: You think it's given a bad name to photographers everywhere?

JOHNSON: I wouldn't say to photographers everywhere, but I think it's very questionable that this photo came out of Lebanon at a time that is very crucial in the history of the world. I think that, really, we need to cast a very skeptical eye.

NGUYEN: All right. Charles Johnson, a blogger with greenfootballs.com [sic]. By the way, why is it called greenfootballs.com?

JOHNSON: Oh, I can't tell you that, sorry.

NGUYEN: It's a secret, huh? Maybe offline we'll find out.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: Thank you, Charles.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, International Conflicts
Network/Outlet
CNN
Show/Publication
Live From...
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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