In our chapter on mass media, we discuss ways in which technological developments have affected journalism. Because it is now so easy to alter photographs, news organizations now confront photography increasingly presents issues of ethics and accuracy. The New York Times reports:
It was the ideal metaphor for a politically troubled president.
There was President Obama on the cover of the June 19 issue of The Economist, standing alone on a Louisiana beach, head down, looking forlornly at the ground.
The problem was, he was not actually alone. The photograph was just edited to make it look that way.
The unaltered image, shot on May 28 by a Reuters photographer, Larry Downing, shows Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president, standing alongside the president. But in the image that appeared on The Economist’s cover, Admiral Allen and Ms. Randolph had been scrubbed out, replaced by the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.
At Daily Kos, Jed Lewison is critical:
This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but there's really no excuse for bending facts to support a narrative. Digital image processing can be a great way to make a point, but it's wrong to create a fake image and pass it off as real to an unsuspecting audience. That's the kind of thing we'd expect from the Iranian government -- and they really aren't the guys you want to emulate.
We all live in a Photoshopped century. Unfeigned reality has become a rarity at the upper levels of politics and celebrity. Sometimes it seems like the "authors" of half the books on the nonfiction bestseller list did little more than hire an expensive ghostwriter and grudgingly answer some questions into a tape recorder. Believing in a model political marriage (Al Gore, this carbon offset is for you) is truly the triumph of hope over experience. On cable TV, the political discourse is dominated by hosts (soon to include the disgraced Eliot Spitzer) who exude the kind of ideological certainty about everything that used to be associated only with heavy brainwashing.
White House image-makers would not allow FDR to be photographed in a wheelchair, presidential pictures have almost always been a triumph of stagecraft.