Reuters announced Sunday it was suspending its relationship with Adnan Hajj, a
freelance photographer in Lebanon who had worked for the British news service since
1993, because he doctored a photograph on the aftermath of an Israeli air strike in
Mr. Hajj cloned the image of a plume of smoke rising from a bombed building, which
made it appear the damage was more widespread than in fact it was.
The doctoring was discovered by Web logger Charles Johnson (Little Green Footballs),
the man who proved the memo then CBS anchor Dan Rather was relying on for his expose
of President Bush's National Guard service had been typed on Microsoft Word, which
did not exist at the time of the date on the memo.
In announcing the suspension, Reuters quoted its head of public relations, Moira
Whittle, as saying: "The photographer has denied deliberately attempting to
manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he
made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under."
Perhaps Mr. Hajj also was attempting to remove dust marks when he cloned (twice) an
image of a flare being dropped from an Israeli F-16 in a photo he took Aug. 2. The
caption says, erroneously, that the F-16 was dropping bombs.
This doctoring was discovered by Web logger Rusty Shackleford (Jawa Report). After
investigating Mr. Schackleford's charges, Reuters announced Monday it was
withdrawing from its data base all 920 photographs Mr. Hajj took for them.
"There is no graver breach of Reuters' standards for our photographers than the
deliberate manipulation of an image," said Reuters global picture editor, Tom
The cloning in the photographs was clumsy, which suggests that Mr. Hajj should not
take all the blame for their distribution. What is the point of having photo
editors if they cannot spot such obvious frauds?
This is especially so because another stringer for Reuters, Issam Kobeisi, may be
involved in a staged photograph. Mr. Kobeisi transmitted July 22 a photo of a woman
wailing outside the wreckage of what the caption said was her apartment building.
A British Web logger (Drinking From Home) noticed that on Aug. 5, AP photographer
Hussein Malla transmitted a photo of the very same woman (she has a scar on her left
cheek and a mark under her right eye) wailing in front of an entirely different
bombed building. If she isn't the most unlucky multiple property owner in Beirut,
then the photo most likely was staged.
What is significant about Mr. Hajj is not the two photographs Reuters admits he
doctored, but the doubt it casts on the veracity of the other images he's
Mr. Hajj was among those whose dramatic photos of dead children being pulled from
the wreckage of a building the Israelis bombed in the village of Qana July 30 helped
turn world opinion against Israel. Dr. Richard North, a British Web logger (EU
Referendum), thinks these photographs were staged, because rescue workers clearly
carrying the same corpse are wearing different gear in different photographs. The
time stamps on the photos suggest they were taken hours apart, he said.
Other Web loggers have noted that while some of corpses allegedly retrieved from the
site were covered with dust (as one would expect from a collapsed building), others
were not. Some apparently were in rigor mortis; others not.
There have been questions about Qana the news media have made little effort to
answer. The Israeli air force bombed the building at 1:00 a.m., but says it didn't
collapse until around 8:00 a.m. This could have been a delayed reaction to the
bombing; the result of secondary explosions (the Israelis thought Hezbollah was
storing munitions in the building), or the product of demolition by Hezbollah.
If one assumes the collapse was the result of the bombing, one has to wonder why
those inside made no effort to leave during the hours between the bombing and the
building's fall, and those outside made no effort to rescue them.
A German newspaper (the Bild Zeitung) described "green helmet," a central figure in
the Qana photographs I wrote about in my last column, as "a professional Hezbollah
This is a major scandal. Reuters has been transmitting Hezbollah propaganda. We
need to know how much, whether photo editors were complicit, and what Reuters
intends to do to keep this from happening again.
And if Mr. Hajj staged photographs at Qana, he wasn't alone. Stringers for AP and
Agence France Press transmitted the same images.
It's often been said that truth is the first casualty in war. But it shouldn't be
the news media that kills it.