Use of Misleading or Inaccurate Videos and Photos Must End

(Garden Grove, California)

I am spending this week in the greater Los Angeles area, home to Hollywood, Disneyland and a lot of other stuff that teeters on the edges of magic and illusion. It is a fun and entertaining place, but often more fantasy than reality.

I mention this because of a troubling development in the news industry these past few weeks. Both Fox and MSNBC have had to apologize in recent days for using video of political candidates which was either doctored (aka “photoshopped”), or which simply misrepresented the facts of the event. For example, Fox talked about the throngs of people coming out to a Sarah Palin book signing with a "Happening Now" headline, when, in fact, the video was from a campaign event in the fall of 2008. In another case, the infamous “doctored” photo of a shotgun-toting Palin in a bikini was aired on MSNBC even though it wasn’t Palin. (See video clip above).

A few weeks back, I chastised Mike Huckabee and Fox for airing clips of Bill Clinton, seemingly opposing Barack Obama on health care reform, when, in fact, those video clips and quotes were about the war in Iraq. And so it goes! No wonder the public has such mistrust for the press!

This week “Newsweek” showed Sarah Palin on the cover in a jogging outfit. Yes, it was Palin; and, yes, she posed for the shot to promote fitness in a running magazine. But putting it on the cover of a serious news magazine as Palin embarks on what may be a Presidential run demeans her (and it demeans "Newsweek"). It’s as if the editors said, “We need to show that this lady is not a serious or credible candidate.” Excuse me. I’ll make my own judgment as an informed voter, listening to what she has to say on the issues. I don’t need the press intentionally trying to shape my opinion.

This is nothing new, of course. In 1994, “Time” put a photo on the cover of a newly-appointed House Speaker Newt Gingrich with this odd green tint--making him look, in the opinion of many, like “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Gingrich and conservatives were furious (as were many in the rank and file press corps who know it’s unethical to alter a photo). Around the same time, “Time” also displayed a cover photo of O.J. Simpson, in which his skin was made darker than it is in real life. The implication, according to many critics was, “darker skinned African Americans are more sinister and dangerous!” Even people who reviled Simpson thought the photo crossed the line.

According to the RTDNA (the Radio, Television and Digital News Directors Association) Code of Ethics: “Professional electronic journalists should not
manipulate images or sounds in any way that is misleading.” According to Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics: “Journalists should never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible,” and “Journalists should avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.” And, finally, journalists should “Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.”

To my fellow journalists, these quotes are from our professional “Bibles.” I’m not making this stuff up. This is what we pledge to do professionally! Our word is our bond with the audience.

The ethics aside, I am a great believer in giving the public unvarnished information and letting voters (or juries) decide. Sarah Palin, as a candidate for public office, will rise or fall on her own merits. We don’t need “Newsweek” to give us a gentle nudge by trying to lower her stature. The thing that just kills me is that "Newsweek" has a staff of photographers which is the envy of the industry. What? Were they all on a coffee break? That such an esteemed magazine would “borrow” a photo from another publication is a farce. (By the way, did Bill Clinton ever make the cover in his jogging shorts as number one “jogger-in-chief,” when he was first elected? Yes, he was depicted that way in articles, but not with the stature of a cover photo and all of its implications).

The fact that Fox and MSNBC have both had to apologize in recent days troubles me. I know people in both organizations, and they simply know better. They did the public and our industry a disservice. Let’s hope a public airing of their behavior raises the ethical bar in every newsroom. Our future depends on the public’s trust.


The media was caught using photos that were misleading because they had been altered.

I'm shocked to hear of such a thing.

How could this have ever happened? Not in America.

This kind of thing happens all the time except it is usually a video clip that is edited. They will cut snippets of video out of a larger one. When taken out of context, these things take on a whole new completely misleading meaning.

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