Is it ok for journalists to change facts?

I don't care what your politics or your religion are, if you're a journalist your job is the report the facts of the day. Journalists are historians in many ways, documenting what's happening in our world. That why I find it so terribly disturbing that one newspaper has gone as far as to edit a photograph taken at the White House.

The photo below was shot by White House photographer Pete Souza. It captures President Obama and his national security team watching the live feed of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound on April 30.

Photo credit: Pete Souza

The photo that appeared in Brooklyn's Der Tzitung, however, looked like this:

Photo credit: Yahoo! News

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been "fauxtoshopped" out. As has the woman in the back, Audrey Tomason, the national director of counter-terrorism. Apparently, the Der Tzitung is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic publication which won't print any photos of women in its broadsheet.

Now, aside from the fact that the White House says official photos made available to news organizations cannot be manipulated, aside from the fact that Der Tzitung finds it unsuitable to show women in photos, what ever happened to journalists reporting the news? You know, the news that's all jam-packed with facts and reality?

This isn't about religion. This isn't about politics. And please don't turn this into a discussion about Hillary Clinton. This is about journalism. If we can't count on newspapers to deliver the unbiased, unaltered news, well, quite frankly, they serve no purpose. To completely change the facts of history by removing one of the highest-ranking cabinet members from a photo that chronicles one of the most significant days in U.S. history? That's disgraceful.

Practice your religion. Embrace your politics. But when a journalist takes the oath to report the news, his or her personal feelings should take a back seat. Shame on anyone and any news organization that would alter an historic photograph. If it somehow goes again the "ethics" of the news organization, I say don't print it. No one says you have to! But, don't alter history. That's dishonest. That's unprofessional. That's irresponsible. And, it's flat out wrong.


  1. I saw that earlier today! I was agahast! Seriously!?! This is more than just religion and journalism. This is about changing history and blatantly lying to justify the oppression of a group of people, women.

    They had to take Hilary out of the picture because seeing her doing her job would insite some men to think lustful thoughts? What kind of religion thinks so little of its men that they believe that Hilary Clinton in a pant suit stifling a cough in the command centre room would insite the men into some kind of uncontrolled wild lust? Ugh!

    As you can see, I'm pretty worked up to. Where's my blog....

  2. Excellent post. No one could've said it better.

    We have this conversation in photography all of the time. Some of us edit. Some do not. Photographers (and journalists) MUST understand that while journalism IS an art form, it does not mean that it then absorbs the same expression points as other forms of photography.

    Editing a portrait for skin blemishes (by a portrait photographer) is NOT the same as modifying photojournalism (by a photographer, editor etc) to the point that the entire story has changed. Every image comes down to the INTENT and MESSAGE--what is the person trying to express and why. Some forms of art (portrait, wedding etc) have room for interpretive composition and final display. I genuinely do not feel that photojournalism and forensic photography have that room at all. I am not saying that the images then must be straight out of camera. (I think basic editing changes are ok though some "purists" even disagree with me here. By basic editing I mean slight contrast, sharpening, white balance, sizing the appropriate size). They simply have different intents and messages, and that should dictate the final outcome of the photograph.

    I wonder if the people who read this paper will ever know the truth? Maybe they will if they have access to the web. Here is an instance where the world wide web and social media really can make a difference in the access of information and interpretations because of it.

  3. I hear you. It's craziness.

    If the newspaper really felt so strongly about it, they just should have skipped it altogether. At least that I could understand. But to ALTER the photo? To intentionally REWRITE history? That's what gets me steamed.

    I'm worked up about it, too. Thanks for chiming in, Kazia ;-)

  4. Ohhh, I love hearing from an actual photographer on this one! Thanks for adding to the discussion, Trudy!

    You add some great points. Yes, photojournalism and forensic are certainly different than wedding photos, for sure! Indeed, photography can be art. But photos issued from the White House for use by news organizations are the furthest thing from art that their is.

    And your point is well-taken. If someone only reads "altered" news, they may never know the real truth of what's happening in the world. How scary is that?

    Thanks for contributing to the dialogue, Trudy!

  5. I disagree about White House photographs being the "furthest things from art." Completely disagree. There is an art to photojournalism and it is evident through Souza's (current White House photographer who made the Situation Room photograph) work made visible through the White House Flickr photostream. The presence of art is visible in the late Hondros and Hetherington's work (photojournalists recently killed in Libya.) So I want to be clear that when I mentioned wedding/portrait, I meant that editing after the fact (after the image is out of camera) is more acceptable in these forms versus photojournalism and forensic, not that these former forms are art and the latter are not.

    Souza's method of conveying emotion through his lighting, composition, and attention to detail are facets of what an artist does. Knowing the decisive moment takes skill and artistic vision. Being able to cover the exact same subjects over a long period of time requires artistic prowess and vision. Notice how his photographs take new perspectives on the same old meetings and what not. So yes, those kind of photographs do require artists to make them. They are art. However, how those images are expressed as final images have a different standard as far as what is added or removed to the image since the intent and message differ from personal or commercial photography.

    It would have been better if the journalists ran the story without the photo than violating copyright, journalistic integrity and really an attempt to alter history. How sad.

  6. Let me clarify. All photography is artistic. It's a person with a great eye who can compose a great photo. Whether it be someone standing at a podium or a photo captured on the war front.

    What I meant was, is that photos issued by the White House are not art in that they should not be open to interpretation. They document historic facts. And, as such, are not subjective like other art such as paintings. In a painting, you say see a crying child and I may see a flourishing tree. However, in this photo issued by the White House, both of us should see the national security team watching a live feed of the bin Laden takedown.

  7. I saw that pic this morning on the news. They were pointing out that the women were Photoshopped out. I was under the impression that it was a Mid East publication. I wasn't aware that it was a Brooklyn newspaper.

    I agree that the newspaper should have just not included the picture, but really all they were doing was keeping with editorial policy. Now I don't believe that this is any excuse for what they did, but there are a lot of valid defenses out there which are morally wrong. Even though what they did with this picture was morally wrong, that doesn't mean that they were wrong to do it. They are in business to make money, and if their customer base would possibly leave because they printed the undoctored photo, then what they should have printed was what they did. IUt doesn't change history in any way, just shows their customer base the type of history they want to see. A good word for it is "Propaganda"!

  8. "This isn't about religion. This isn't about politics. And please don't turn this into a discussion about Hillary Clinton. This is about journalism.

    To me, this excerpt summarizes this entire "argument" -- and the final four words make clear which side is the right side. Journalism is about reporting facts - and while any presentation of facts is necessarily subjective, the deliberate distortion or intentional misrepresentation of information is unacceptable in any form of media that claims to be even remotely journalistic.

    The editing of this image makes me think of the quote that is often attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts."

    What is most offensive about this photo (in terms of both journalistic integrity and, ya know, basic human decency) is that Der Tzitung could have easily opted to run a cropped version of this photo --

  9. Amber, it is so sad and so true that we can't count on journalists to deliver the unbiased, unaltered news. Unfortunately, this type of thing takes place all the time in this country, and of course, the world. To completely change the facts of history by removing one of the
    highest-ranking cabinet members from a photo that chronicles one of the
    most significant days in U.S. history IS appalling. Especially, when you find out it was a Brooklyn paper! Not only is it appalling they removed these women, but Hilary Clinton was instrumental in the raid even taking place!

  10. I have to disagree with you on this. The doctoring of this picture does change how this point in history will be remembered. I would have the same objections if they had removed President Obama. Would you still find it acceptable then? Or would it still just be propaganda?

  11. Wow! Love this comment, Hugh. You said it, my friend.

    And, I love that Moynihan quote, too!

    Regardless of the standards of your paper, can you ever imagine altering history? It seriously blows me away.

    I'm gonna read your comment again. It's worth a second helping ;-)

  12. Yeah, so much for being the former Senator from New York, huh????

    Changing the image is like knowing the facts of a story that you are going to write and INTENTIONALLY saying something untrue. There is just no defense for this.

    Thanks for sharing my outrage, Beth. Glad to know I'm not alone on this one.

  13. Ohhhh ok. Yes any form of art has the message intended and then viewers are allowed to interpret. Viewers. But the interpretation should not occur via manipulation prior to publication if the image is photojournalistic. Thanks for clearing up your position.

  14. I gotta agree with Beth on this one, Tim. You're right in that dishonest news is, indeed, propaganda. However, I disagree that changing the photo does not change history in any way. What happened, happened. But what is reported should be historically accurate, as well.

    If this paper is worried about alienating its subscriber base, they should have just opted not to use the photo. Nothing wrong with that. And, yeah, you'd THINK this would be a foreign paper, right???? Disheartening that it's a New York paper---a state where Hillary Clinton served as senator, no less.

  15. Words Done Write This unfortunately is a more egregious example of what we see quite frequently (on both sides of the political aisle) - shaping/changing facts to fit narrative. But this holds an important lesson for those even beyond the realm of journalism: the importance of fidelity to the ethics of one's profession. In this case, journalistic integrity was badly besmirched.

  16. Too true, Allyn. Very nicely said.

  17. Snoring Dog StudioMay 10, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    Sheesh. Beyond bizarre. Seems to me that trying to alter history these days is a fool's endeavor - what with social media's popularity and constant presence in our lives. This kind of thing just makes them seem silly and barely worth attending to. I wonder how many of them get their news from someplace else. Great post, Amber!

  18. Good point, Jean. Just makes you wonder how much "news" may have been altered pre-social media, but readers didn't know otherwise. For better or worse, any average joe can now call out anyone. Kind of a nice balance of power, actually! ;-)

    Thanks for stopping by, Jean!

  19. There are two issues here that really disturb me. 1) The distortion of facts by journalists to fit their own perceived notions of truth (which is prevalent in these highly opinionated, politically polarized times). 2) The blatant disrespect for women still continues as shown by wiping out the women who were in this photo. The religious reasons used by the newspaper are no longer good enough in the 21st century.

  20. I hear you, sista! Unfortunately, politics and religion continue to be powerful dividers, don't they?

  21. Ok, I'm not shunning you; that other thing got crazy today. I'll be back later, just wanted to say hello.

  22. Hey Amber,

    Thanks for calling this out..This is totally unacceptable...I can't imagine why there isn't a bigger stink being raised over this. If this is supposed to be a legitimate news can they NOT be called out for essentially changing history? What a slap in the face!


  23. Can you imagine just having your position in life erased? If we ever get a woman president, that rag will have lots of fauxtoshopped images, I guess.

    Very sad.

  24. Totally unacceptable in my honest opinion Amber, although this is not the first time its happening, i have heard countless times its happened in the past from Adolf Hitler time and how they manage to make people "disappear" without trace which was a little scary.

    But in this era? its funny its even still happening

  25. It certainly doesn't give you a warm, fuzzy. You already wonder what is real and what has been altered these days.

    If it's the news I want it straight up, unfiltered and unaltered. I concur with you; if the paper 'couldn't' print pictures of women, then don't print the picture.

    How did you even find out about this; I might be going out on a limb but I'm guessing you don't subscribe to that particular paper, huh?

  26. You'd think it was an extremist foreign publication, right? But, right in Brooklyn? I'm all for freedom of speech, but rewriting history is not acceptable. Ever.

    Thanks so much for chiming in, Aaron!

  27. No kidding, right? This alteration is obvious. But how many other newspapers are getting much too comfortable with fauxtoshopping? It's creative storytelling at best and has no place in journalism. A true disgrace.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion, Bill.

  28. Well, my comment actually had to do with your last paragraph. I read too fast. So now I have nothing witty to add. But I hope you're having a fantastic ThursdayTim Shehan

    Addendum: Can we find out if they at least mentioned the women in the caption even if they don't show them in the photograph? (playing devil's advocate). You're right, they shouldn't have been Photoshopped out at all, but if the paper had the grace to add them to the caption, that would be something..

  29. The caption is written in Hebrew, so I can't be sure if the caption lists the women or not. However, if we're crediting people who don't appear in the image, perhaps The Wizard of Oz and the Tooth Fairy should be in the caption, too ;-)

    Ok, I kid. But I see what you're saying. That would be an interesting caption, huh? Pictured: Joe Shmoe, John Doe, etc. Omitted: Hilary Clinton, Audrey Tomason.

    Thanks for stopping by, Annette!

  30. So let me get this straight. If any particular country's primary president, premier, ruler, etc.who  also happens to be a female  is meeting with a country of interest to the Arab global community, this journalist would block her from any meet and greet photos taken there by making it look like the other ruler or leader was meeting with himself? Let us hope he does not cover many historic events!

  31. Hi Cheri! Thanks for stopping by.

    This is actually a Hasidic publication, not Arab. Hasidic is a kind of Judaism. But, yes, I'd have to assume the editors would "erase" any image of a woman since it's against their journalistic principles to include them in their broadsheet.

    Religion: the great divider ;-(


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