Monday, September 25, 2006

Fauxtography, or, the art of making news

If you don’t surf the internet’s “right-wing goofball” blog sites, you probably were unaware that there is a war going on right now. No, this is not about the big guns and exploding cars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or the mobs of Muslims shooting inside Christian churches or plotting to blow up the US and Israeli embassies in Oslo, Norway, or both Democrats and Republicans objecting to the words of dangerous lunatic Hugo Chavez. No, this war is going unreported because the combatants are the reporters, themselves.

The war you’re missing is between the major news sources -- Reuters and Associated Press -- and plain facts.

Apparently, they learned nothing useful from the ouster of Dan Rather following the “fake but accurate” scandal known today as “Rathergate”.

In Rathergate, bloggers were the first to bring to light the fraudulent nature of documents created by computers, intended to ruin President Bush’s chances of being reelected in 2004. They -- a collection of experts in many fields, including legal, military, and technology -- proved that the documents could not be what Dan Rather and his cohort at CBS News claimed they were. The bloggers hoped that their work would usher in a new era of honesty in news media -- or, at least, an era of more expert fakery, to provide them with a real challenge, once in a while.

Sadly, it has done neither. Recently (last month), Reuters was caught with its hand bright vermillion, when it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that several photographs published by one of their “stringers” (freelance photographers in difficult locations) in Lebanon had been altered, and very badly, at that. The fakery was so bad, even I could have done it better, and my area of artistic expertise is with a dippin’ pen and a bottle of ink. The term “fauxtography” was born to describe these pseudo-news graphics. Immediately, Reuters pulled every photograph by that person off its website, without explanation.

Shortly thereafter, more images of the same war -- including a series of video clips -- were proven to have been staged. Many of them featured the same faces in different settings, doing the same histrionic gestures. Quite a few of them showed bodies of children being repeatedly picked up and handed back and forth as though “only just now” having been dug from the rubble. Many video clips were provided of ambulances, all in a row, racing past cameras... with nowhere to go but past the cameras again. While this does not detract from their value as works of political or artistic expression, it does tend to invalidate their worth as news images. It is fake.

And now, reports come from the Associated Press, that one of “their own” in Iraq, a man known as Bilal Hussein, is being held by the US military, for having the gall to... uh... well, according to the AP, and to the Washington Post, for taking pictures unflattering to the United States. According to others -- not just the US Army -- he’s being held because he was an active member of a terrorist cell. They arrested him while he was in a Ramadi apartment with an al Qaeda leader, surrounded by a gigantic weapons cache. Subsequently Hussein tested positive for explosives. Some of his award-winning-quality pictures were in close quarters with men wearing balaclavas gunning down a man in the street, some from sniper positions, some were of the execution of Italian national, Salvatore Santoro. In none of these photos did it appear the “insurgents” he was capturing on digital film were even remotely displeased he was recording their actions. At the very least, his own photographic evidence indicates he was an accessory to the Santoro execution. At the next level, Bilal Hussein is complicit and a propagandist. At the very worst, Bilal Hussein is a terrorist who records terrorist actions for the rest of the world to witness.

Any way you look at it, his pictures, his name should not be listed as reliable news sources.

But Reuters and the Associated Press would have us believe that their fakery is truer than actual events. The war against truth is begun. The enemy, it seems, is a pair of central sources for international news. It is time we all armed ourselves against them and their allies, it is time we loaded up on ammunition. Which ammunition do we use?

Just the facts, ma’am.

Suggested reading:

lgf: Fauxtography Updates (links to many articles, for full background)
Michelle Malkin: Where is Bilal Hussein?
Michelle Malkin: AP runs to the Washington Post

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