Obama’s skeet photo is one of many acts of high-profile photo theater

  • News photographs that have been called into question, legitimately or not, for one reason or another, include that of President Obama shooting clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., in early August to prove his gun-rights bona fides. (Associated Press)News photographs that have been called into question, legitimately or not, for one reason or another, include that of President Obama shooting clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., in early August to prove his gun-rights bona fides. (Associated Press)
  • File - In this file photo taken on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin locks a collar with a satellite tracker on the tranquilized five-year-old Ussuri tiger in a Russian Academy of Sciences reserve in Russia's Far East as he took a part in the national program for preserving the population of the Ussuri tiger conducted by researchers of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Animal-loving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been accused of staging his famous encounter with a tigress three years ago. St. Petersburg-based environmentalists Dmitry Molodtsov says that photos of the animal that Putin tagged with a GPS collar in 2008 and subsequent images of what preservationists claimed was the same tigress in fact showed two different animals, indicating that Putin's tigress never was let out into the wild. Molodtsov claimed Friday that Putin's tigress was borrowed from a local zoo for the occasion.  A coordinator at the government-funded Amur tiger conservation project dismissed his claim as untrue.(AP Photo / RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)File - In this file photo taken on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2008, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin locks a collar with a satellite tracker on the tranquilized five-year-old Ussuri tiger in a Russian Academy of Sciences reserve in Russia's Far East as he took a part in the national program for preserving the population of the Ussuri tiger conducted by researchers of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Animal-loving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been accused of staging his famous encounter with a tigress three years ago. St. Petersburg-based environmentalists Dmitry Molodtsov says that photos of the animal that Putin tagged with a GPS collar in 2008 and subsequent images of what preservationists claimed was the same tigress in fact showed two different animals, indicating that Putin's tigress never was let out into the wild. Molodtsov claimed Friday that Putin's tigress was borrowed from a local zoo for the occasion. A coordinator at the government-funded Amur tiger conservation project dismissed his claim as untrue.(AP Photo / RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)
  • Picture: During the 2004 presidential election, a photo surfaced that appeared to show Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and actress Jane Fonda sitting next to each other at a Vietnam War protest rally. Circulated with an Associated Press logo and attached to what looked like an old newspaper article, the black-and-white photo quickly spread across the Internet, particularly among conservative blogs and websites. Both the image and its accompanying newspaper trappings were phony, created by combining two separate photographs — one of Mr. Kerry speaking at a 1971 anti-war rally, the other of Miss Fonda speaking at a 1972 rally.
  • Abbey Road album cover. Controversy: “Paul is dead†conspiracy theorists maintain that the Paul McCartney in the photo is actually an impostor — perhaps a McCartney lookalike named William Shears — and that the album cover is full of hidden clues and morbid symbolism, including the left-handed Mr. McCartney holding a cigarette in his right hand and being out of step with his bandmates.
Verdict: Real photo. Bogus conspiracy theory. Never mind Mr. McCartney’s prolific post-“death†musical career — no self-respecting global conspiracy dedicated to maintaining the illusion that a supposedly deceased artist as talented as Mr. McCartney was still alive would ever have allowed “Wonderful Christmastime†to be released.Abbey Road album cover. Controversy: “Paul is dead†conspiracy theorists maintain that the Paul McCartney in the photo is actually an impostor — perhaps a McCartney lookalike named William Shears — and that the album cover is full of hidden clues and morbid symbolism, including the left-handed Mr. McCartney holding a cigarette in his right hand and being out of step with his bandmates. Verdict: Real photo. Bogus conspiracy theory. Never mind Mr. McCartney’s prolific post-“death†musical career — no self-respecting global conspiracy dedicated to maintaining the illusion that a supposedly deceased artist as talented as Mr. McCartney was still alive would ever have allowed “Wonderful Christmastime†to be released.
  • COMBO - This combination of two photos obtained from the Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, shows, left, an Iranian technician holding a monkey that Iran claims rode an Iranian rocket into space, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, and right, an undated image of an Iranian technician holding a monkey which had been prepared to ride an Iranian rocket into space, in an undisclosed location in Iran. One of two official packages of photos of Iran's famed simian space traveler released to media depicted the wrong monkey--with a distinctive mole over its right eye--but a senior Iranian space official confirmed Saturday that a primate really did fly into space and returned safely to Earth. (AP Photo/ ISNA, Borna Ghasemi, Mohammad Agah)COMBO - This combination of two photos obtained from the Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, shows, left, an Iranian technician holding a monkey that Iran claims rode an Iranian rocket into space, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, and right, an undated image of an Iranian technician holding a monkey which had been prepared to ride an Iranian rocket into space, in an undisclosed location in Iran. One of two official packages of photos of Iran's famed simian space traveler released to media depicted the wrong monkey--with a distinctive mole over its right eye--but a senior Iranian space official confirmed Saturday that a primate really did fly into space and returned safely to Earth. (AP Photo/ ISNA, Borna Ghasemi, Mohammad Agah)
  • A 2006 series of photographs taken by Lebanese freelance photographer and Reuters correspondent Adnan Hajj appeared to show multiple smoke plumes over Beirut following an Israeli attack and an Israeli fighter jet firing several ground attack missiles over Southern Lebanon. 
Controversy: Bloggers accused Mr. Hajj of doctoring both photos.
Verdict: Fake. An internal Reuters investigation discovered that Mr. Hajj had added extra smoke plumes to the first photo and altered an image of an Israeli fighter dropping a single defensive flare in the second.A 2006 series of photographs taken by Lebanese freelance photographer and Reuters correspondent Adnan Hajj appeared to show multiple smoke plumes over Beirut following an Israeli attack and an Israeli fighter jet firing several ground attack missiles over Southern Lebanon. Controversy: Bloggers accused Mr. Hajj of doctoring both photos. Verdict: Fake. An internal Reuters investigation discovered that Mr. Hajj had added extra smoke plumes to the first photo and altered an image of an Israeli fighter dropping a single defensive flare in the second.
  • President Bush listens to Nancy Jara read during a visit to the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans Headquarters Summer Reading Camp Friday, June 14, 2002, in Houston . The President during his visit said the terrorists who conducted the car bombing at the U.S. consulate in Karachi Pakistan " are radical killers" with no regard for human life. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Picture: A widely-circulated photo appeared to show President George W. Bush holding a picture book upside down while reading with children during a 2002 Houston school visit.

Controversy: The photo gave visual ammunition to Mr. Bush’s detractors and political opponents, many of whom caricatured the president as, well, not so bright.

Verdict: Fake. Comparison to an original Associated Press photograph shows that the book’s “upside-down†cover was digitally altered.President Bush listens to Nancy Jara read during a visit to the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans Headquarters Summer Reading Camp Friday, June 14, 2002, in Houston . The President during his visit said the terrorists who conducted the car bombing at the U.S. consulate in Karachi Pakistan " are radical killers" with no regard for human life. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Picture: A widely-circulated photo appeared to show President George W. Bush holding a picture book upside down while reading with children during a 2002 Houston school visit. Controversy: The photo gave visual ammunition to Mr. Bush’s detractors and political opponents, many of whom caricatured the president as, well, not so bright. Verdict: Fake. Comparison to an original Associated Press photograph shows that the book’s “upside-down†cover was digitally altered.
  • Astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.  poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969.  (AP Photo/NASA/Neil A. Armstrong)
Conspiracy theorists have claimed that photos of the lunar landings are bogus due to: a lack of visible stars; inconsistent shadows and lighting that seem to track with a studio production; what looks like the letter “C†written on a moon rock and the lunar surface; an Australian woman’s alleged claim that she saw a soft drink bottle in the frame while watching one of the manned landings take place on live television. NASA has provided plausible explanations for all of the above: Stars weren’t visible due to the brightness of the sun during the lunar daytime; inconsistent shadows and lighting were the result of lens distortion, lunar dust, uneven ground and multiple light sources; the “C†shape does not appear in original lunar camera film and is believed to be a coiled hair that made its way into the printing processesAstronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. (AP Photo/NASA/Neil A. Armstrong) Conspiracy theorists have claimed that photos of the lunar landings are bogus due to: a lack of visible stars; inconsistent shadows and lighting that seem to track with a studio production; what looks like the letter “C†written on a moon rock and the lunar surface; an Australian woman’s alleged claim that she saw a soft drink bottle in the frame while watching one of the manned landings take place on live television. NASA has provided plausible explanations for all of the above: Stars weren’t visible due to the brightness of the sun during the lunar daytime; inconsistent shadows and lighting were the result of lens distortion, lunar dust, uneven ground and multiple light sources; the “C†shape does not appear in original lunar camera film and is believed to be a coiled hair that made its way into the printing processes
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Did he or didn’t he?

When the White House released a photograph Saturday that supposedly shows President Obama shooting skeet at Camp David on Aug. 4, it was intended to back up Mr. Obama’s previous statement that “up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time” — a claim met with skepticism, both real and playful, by many on the political right.

The photo has failed to quell “Skeeter” suspicion, instead prompting more questions: Is the president shooting too low to target actual skeet? Is the shotgun smoke pattern unnatural? Why was Mr. Obama photographed wearing different clothes while golfing and boarding Marine One on Aug. 4, which was his 51st birthday?

Of course, the image of Mr. Obama skeet shooting — allegedly — is hardly the first to court controversy:

Lie of the tiger

Picture: An August 2008 photo of then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is now president, affixing a GPS tracking device to an endangered species of tiger — a scene, according to state-run television reports, that took place just after Mr. Putin rescued an endangered camera crew by shooting the attacking tiger with his tranquilizer gun.

Controversy: Russian environmentalists claimed that the female tiger in question was taken from a zoo and driven several hundred miles to the site of Mr. Putin’s photo-op, where she reportedly was sedated and placed in a snare before Mr. Putin arrived. Environmentalists also claimed that the tiger in question, Serga, subsequently died because of excessive tranquilizer use during the publicity stunt.

Verdict: Dubious. The photo appears real. The backstory? Not so much. Last year, Mr. Putin’s website reportedly posted follow-up photos of “Serga”; bloggers were quick to point out that the markings on the tiger in the new photo didn’t match those of the tiger in the original photo.

Space monkey business

Picture: An Iranian state media report last week showed pictures of a monkey that the nation supposedly successfully launched into space.

Controversy: Observers quickly pointed out that the alleged space monkey pictured by state news organizations before the launch had a prominent mole over its right eye, but that the monkey shown in post-mission celebrations did not.

Verdict: Inconclusive. An Iranian space agency official told the Associated Press that the “mole” monkey was one of five simians who trained for the mission, but that another monkey actually made the trip into the thermosphere.

Fun fact: Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time Iran’s aerospace might has been called into photographic question. In 2008, the country’s Revolutionary Guards released a doctored photo showing a successful ballistic-missile launch, never mind that the original photo showing a failed launch already had been printed in an Iranian newspaper. Then, just last week, the country revealed its first “stealth fighter,” the Q-313, which aerospace analysts quickly dismissed as being both too small to actually function and lacking an engine nozzle that would prevent the plane from melting in midair.

Fun with John and Jane

Picture: During the 2004 presidential election, a photo surfaced that appeared to show Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and actress Jane Fonda sitting next to each other at a Vietnam War protest rally.

Controversy: Circulated with an Associated Press logo and attached to what looked like an old newspaper article, the black-and-white photo quickly spread across the Internet, particularly among conservative blogs and websites.

Verdict: Fake. Both the image and its accompanying newspaper trappings were phony, created by combining two separate photographs — one of Mr. Kerry speaking at a 1971 anti-war rally, the other of Miss Fonda speaking at a 1972 rally.

Fun fact: Ken Light, the photographer who took the 1971 photo of Mr. Kerry, had the original negatives of the picture and sued the man who created the fake. Nevertheless, he continued to receive emails claiming his negatives were bogus and that the doctored picture was real.

Fun fact II: Mr. Kerry and Miss Fonda do appear together in an authentic photo from a 1970 anti-war rally, though Miss Fonda is close to the camera and Mr. Kerry is about 10 yards away and out of focus — which pretty much defeats the dramatic effect of the bogus photo.

One bogus leap

Picture: A series of photographs produced by the Apollo program’s manned missions to the moon.

Controversy: Conspiracy theorists — including a handful of (presumably bitter) Russian scientists and an American photo historian who also argued that a series of JFK assassination photos were fake — have claimed that photos of the lunar landings are bogus, owing to a lack of visible stars; inconsistent shadows and lighting that seem to track with a studio production; what looks like the letter “C” written on a moon rock and the lunar surface; an Australian woman’s purported claim that she saw a soft-drink bottle in the frame while watching one of the manned landings take place on live television.

Verdict: Real. And spectacular. Sorry, Moon Truthers, but NASA has provided plausible explanations for all of the above: Stars weren’t visible, owing to the brightness of the sun during the lunar daytime; inconsistent shadows and lighting were the result of lens distortion, lunar dust, uneven ground and multiple light sources; the “C” shape does not appear in original lunar camera film and is thought to be a coiled hair that made its way into the printing processes; the Australian woman supposedly claimed that she had to “stay up late” to watch the landings — which took place during the country’s daytime — and may herself be as real as Manti Te’o’s ersatz dead Internet girlfriend.

President Dumb-ya

Picture: A widely circulated photo appeared to show President George W. Bush holding a picture book upside down while reading with children during a 2002 Houston school visit.

Controversy: The photo gave visual ammunition to Mr. Bush’s detractors and political opponents, many of whom caricatured the president as, well, not so bright.

Verdict: Fake. Comparison to an original Associated Press photograph shows that the book’s “upside-down” cover was digitally altered.

Reuters-gate

Picture: A 2006 series of photographs taken by Lebanese freelance photographer and Reuters correspondent Adnan Hajj appeared to show multiple smoke plumes over Beirut following an Israeli attack and an Israeli fighter jet firing several ground attack missiles over southern Lebanon.

Controversy: Bloggers accused Mr. Hajj of doctoring both photos.

Verdict: Fake. An internal Reuters investigation discovered that Mr. Hajj had added extra smoke plumes to the first photo and altered an image of an Israeli fighter dropping a single defensive flare in the second.

Fun fact: Other photographs from the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah also were called into question, including ones in which undamaged children’s toys were surrounded by piles of rubble. Quipped Los Angeles Times writer Tim Rutten: “Reuters might want to check its freelancers’ expenses for unexplained Toys R Us purchases.”

‘Abbey Road’ rabbit hole

Picture: In the iconic “Abbey Road” album cover, the four members of the Beatles cross a London street.

Controversy: “Paul is dead” conspiracy theorists maintain that the Paul McCartney in the photo is actually an impostor — perhaps a McCartney look-alike named William Shears — and that the album cover is full of hidden clues and morbid symbolism, including the left-handed Mr. McCartney holding a cigarette in his right hand and being out of step with his bandmates.

Verdict: Real photo. Bogus conspiracy theory. Never mind Mr. McCartney’s prolific post-“death” musical career — no self-respecting global conspiracy dedicated to maintaining the illusion that a supposedly deceased artist as talented as Mr. McCartney was still alive would ever have allowed “Wonderful Christmastime” to be released.

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