The rule about newspaper photographs is the same as the rule about words: Keep to the facts. So when it became clear that a freelance Lebanese photographer was doctoring his photographs of the Israeli-Hezbollah war for Reuters, the London-based news service did the right thing by firing him.
News of Adnan Hajj’s fabrications broke over the weekend, when blogger Charles Johnson, who runs the Little Green Footballs Web site — doing what bloggers often do well — noticed that a Reuters photograph of an Israeli missile strike in Beirut had been altered to give the appearance that the damage was worse than it actually was. The blogosphere jumped to the occasion and discovered at least one other Reuters photograph that had been “touched-up” by Mr. Hajj, again to put the Israeli military in a bad light.
The important point here is that Mr. Hajj was doctoring his work for propaganda purposes. Part of Hezbollah’s strategy is to outlast Israel until world opinion says the conflict has gone on long enough and it’s time to quit with no punishment of the terrorists. As the terrorists in Iraq have figured out, one way to do that is by encouraging or playing up the inevitable civilian casualties. Hezbollah militants hide in Lebanese homes, while Hezbollah sympathizers in the media document the “disproportionate” Israeli military response to rockets fired from “peaceful” battery sites.
Reuters is not entirely innocent. If an amateur in photography like Mr. Johnson can discern fakery, why couldn’t Reuters’ professional editors? The answer lies in media bias. Reuters, for example, won’t call terrorists “terrorists.” Media bias is not a conspiracy, but something worse, a consensus. This consensus prevents reporters and editors from acting as professionals. We’ve seen this with Dan Rather and the “60 Minutes” forged documents purporting to show George W. Bush as an Air National Guard slacker. Reuters editors saw in the doctored photographs what they believed to be true, and didn’t bother to analyze or question.
There are more questions about another batch of Reuters photographs from the incident at Qana in July, in which 28 Lebanese civilians were killed in an Israeli air strike. Photographs taken after the explosions have been questioned there, too. Some of those photographs were taken by Mr. Hajj.