Media Black Eye: Reuters Doctored Photo Scandal

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The following is a transcription of the August 12, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS HOST: Here is a picture released by the Reuters news agency this week of what looks like the aftermath of an attack on Beirut. Here on the right is what the picture looked like before a Reuters cameraman decided to get creative with it. Reuters has since retracted not only this photo, but 919 additional pictures taken by this same photographer.

But now more photos from the Middle East are under suspicion, and the Associated Press is being asked about these photos that appear to show the same woman crying over the loss of her house. The only problem is, the photos were supposedly taken several days apart, and the house was in two entirely different parts of Beirut.

If this is fakery — and the "if" might be my going too far here, Cal in trying to be fair — isn't it awfully amateurish, and what's behind it?

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think what's behind it is a prejudice against Israel and what it stands for.

Did anybody watch…

BURNS: That's so blatant, Cal. It's going to be.

THOMAS: Well, look, they're new at it. Give them some time. But the point is, a lot of these pictures are getting out, they get into the media, and you know, it's like Mark Twain's line that — OK, Jim, give it to them.


JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": A lie will get all the way around the world before the truth gets its boots on.

THOMAS: Thank you. We'll be back to you in just a moment.

It is true, once you get out there and serve the prejudice, it's very difficult for the truth to catch up later. If anybody wants to see a great slideshow on this, go to They got all the pictures there. They're terrific.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: It's really regrettable. And I would say — I don't think Reuters retracted as in, said they weren't true. They pulled 900 photographs.

BURNS: Yes, they did not say it wasn't...

HALL: They haven't found that 900 photographs were doctored.

It's amateurish. It's bad. You can question — I mean, obviously this was discovered by "Little Green Footballs," and the same blogger, Charles Johnson.

BURNS: "Little Green Footballs" is — excuse me — but it's the name of a blog.

HALL: Right.

BURNS: Because if you don't say that, it sounds very strange.

HALL: It sounds.

BURNS: "Little Green Footballs" discovered this.

HALL: I know. It sounds like that old, old song.

But, I mean, the bloggers mean that you cannot get away this. The bloggers, many of them, have their own bias and are looking for bias. So of course it casts the cloud over what was real destruction.


PINKERTON: Can I make a point though? Whatever their bias is, if they're telling the truth.



PINKERTON: It doesn't matter what their motives are if they get it right.

Charles Johnson of "Little Green Footballs" nailed Dan Rather two years ago…


PINKERTON: Don't impugn his motives.


HALL: Wait, let me finish. I did not. I said, many of the bloggers are looking for what they're looking for, which is anti-Israel bias. And he found something that was very compelling in both stories.

GABLER: The problem for me is really we don't know whether he did this to enhance the photograph to make it more dramatic…

BURNS: He meaning, the Reuters…

GABLER: The photographer. The Reuters photographer.


GABLER: Or whether he did it to advance an agenda. They're both journalistic wrongs, but they're different journalistic wrongs. And they have to be addressed differently.


GABLER: One is to make a more entertaining photographer. The other is to appeal to the ideology of the audience.

BURNS: But the problem here is, Cal, is that Reuters has a track record. You know, we've done segments on this show about Jessica Lynch, when she returned to this country, and how Reuters altered a story that appeared in a West Virginia newspaper to make it a negative reception without the permission of the reporter. And Reuters has done some other things, too — photographically speaking — that have not been totally accurate.

THOMAS: And not just photographically speaking. Reuters famously will not use the word "terrorist," explaining that one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. Well that's just morally vacuous to a lot of people in an age of terrorism.

PINKERTON: I think this whole blogospheric phenomenon — in the movie "Network" 30 years ago, Howard Beale said, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not taking it anymore," and everybody stood out in the window and said the same thing. The blogs represent that. I mean, it's incredibly healthy reaction. And it puts all of us on notice that when we get things wrong, somebody's out there nailing us on it.

BURNS: Does it.

PINKERTON: That's good.

BURNS: But does it put people on notice, Jim, that sometimes even when they don't get things wrong, they'll get nailed? Because where are so many blogs, and some of them have biases that are so ingrained that they will ignore the truth.

PINKERTON: We'll just have to take our chances that the truth emerges from the competitive marketplace.

BURNS: Because to quote Jim Pinkerton — and we've quoted who? Mark Twain.

HALL: Another great literary figure.

BURNS: "Information wants to be free."

PINKERTON: And the truth ultimately wins in the battle of ideas. I believe that, too.

BURNS: OK, that's the last time I quote you. From now on, you quote yourself.

Jane, you quote yourself.

HALL: OK. I would say that there is nothing good that can come of this. It's wrong to have done it, for whatever reasons. And unfortunately, you know, terrible things have happened. And now people are going, Well, gee, I don't know if that massacre really happened. And that is really regrettable.

THOMAS: I love the Columbia Journalism Review excuse of this. They tried to help the photographer out a little bit, saying, Well, maybe it was the pressure of being in the war zone. Mm-hmm.

GABLER: Media ideology leads to bad things, and this is one example of it, if indeed he was just trying to advance that ideology.

BURNS: We bring this segment to a close. But I have to point out again how struck I am by the fact that bias is creeping into this kind of coverage in a manner so amateurish, so easy to catch. It just stuns me that.


PINKERTON: They'll get better next year.

THOMAS: They'll get better next year.

HALL: So you have to be above reproach. That's the lesson of the blogosphere.

GABLER: But the audience doesn't care if you appeal to their bias.

BURNS: Even when they find out later.


BURNS: Because the truth has its boots.


PINKERTON: Mark Twain said, "The lie gets around the world before the truth gets its boots on."

I don't agree with Neal on this. I think people do care about the truth. Sorry, Neal.

GABLER: Some people do, yes. Not all.

BURNS: We all do on this show.

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