Playing editorial games with photos is one of the oldest and most deadly forms of sniper journalism. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much damage a distorted snapshot can influence reader perceptions for the worse.
Photojournalists know the power they have to shape public opinion and don’t abuse it. They also don’t appreciate it when editors do. Hence photographer David Hume Kennerly’s broadside against Newsweek this morning for butchering the meaning of Kennerly’s otherwise innocent photo of former Vice President Dick Cheney preparing a family meal:
Newsweek’s objective in running the cropped version was to illustrate its editorial point of view, which could only have been done by shifting the content of the image so that readers just saw what the editors wanted them to see. This radical alteration is photo fakery. Newsweek’s choice to run my picture as a political cartoon not only embarrassed and humiliated me and ridiculed the subject of the picture, but it ultimately denigrated my profession.
Photojournalists fight the credibility battle every day, from combating digitally faked photos to being lumped in with the paparazzi, a group of camera-carrying cretins who have no respect for anything, particularly the people they hound. In the case of my Cheney photo, Newsweek is guilty not just of blurring but of blowing up that line between tabloid-style sensationalism and honest photojournalism.
Kennerly rightly concluded that distortions of reality achieved by cropping and manipulating photos — the most fraudulent examples are characterized as “fauxtography” — help explain the public’s current distrust of the traditional press. So, too, do the lame defenses offered by the likes of Newsweek flak Frank De Maria when their publications are caught bloody-handed:
We cropped the photograph using editorial judgment to show the most interesting part of it. Is it a picture of the former vice president cutting meat? Yes, it is. Has it been altered? No. Did we use the image to make an editorial point — in this case, about the former vice president’s red-blooded, steak-eating, full-throated defense of his views and values? Yes, we did.
Kennerly is right — Newsweek was wrong to use his colorful photo of a Cheney family occasion to make a point about the former vice president’s political views. And Newsweek’s reputation will continue to plummet as long as it keeps looking at the world through a lens with the cap on it.
[Cross-posted at Hot Air’s “Greenroom“]