Friday, 11 July 2008

Photoshopped Iranian Missiles

We're now on the second day of Iranian missile tests, the first day heavily reported on the front page of the IHT - with a photo - and on the home page of , both with a dramatic image of four missiles soaring into the sky.

I've 'loved' this story, because here we have had MSM going with photos supplied by the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards, showing four missiles, and it turns out one of them was Photoshopped in!

In fairness, I found this out thanks to the NYT who had been suckered themselves with their running of this photo on and in the IHT, but strangely they tucked away this mistake in a fascinating part of their web site - worth keeping an eye on - called ("The Lede - Notes on the News")

Maybe I've missed it, but this quite important story, going to the heart of MSM credibility is relegated to a blog, and there's now no reference to it in Alan Cowell's article about the initial launches, now with a corrected image showing just three missiles. The web is great for covering up mistakes.

Here's The Lede Blog's article on this, worthy of a full read to see how readily MSM will publish and print 'n'importe quoi'.

July 10, 2008, 9:16 am
In an Iranian Image, a Missile Too Many
Mike Nizza and Patrick Witty

[Original Image]
In the four-missile version of the image released Wednesday by Sepah News, the media arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, two major sections (encircled in red) appear to closely replicate other sections (encircled in orange). (Illustration by The New York Times; photo via Agence France-Presse)

Latest update at 3 p.m. Eastern Agence France-Presse has retracted the image as “apparently digitally altered.” More developments at the bottom of the post.

As news spread across the world of Iran’s provocative missile tests, so did an image of four missiles heading skyward in unison. Unfortunately, it appeared to contain one too many missiles, a point that had not emerged before the photo was used on the front pages of The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Chicago Tribune and several other newspapers as well as on BBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and many other major news Web sites. [IW: The Lede doesn't seem to think the NYT's global edition worthy of a mention.]
Agence France-Presse said that it obtained the image from the Web site of Sepah News, the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, on Wednesday. But there was no sign of it there later in the day. Today, The Associated Press distributed what appeared to be a nearly identical photo from the same source, but without the fourth missile.
As the above illustration shows, the second missile from the right appears to be the sum of two other missiles in the image. The contours of the billowing smoke match perfectly near the ground, as well in the immediate wake of the missile. Only a small black dot in the reddish area of exhaust seems to differ from the missile to its left, though there are also some slight variations in the color of the smoke and the sky.
Does Iran’s state media use Photoshop? The charge has been
leveled before. So far, though, it can’t be said with any certainty whether there is any official Iranian involvement in this instance. Sepah apparently published the three-missile version of the image today without further explanation.
For its part, Agence France-Presse retracted its four-missile version this morning, saying that the image was “apparently digitally altered” by Iranian state media. The fourth missile “has apparently been added in digital retouch to cover a grounded missile that may have failed during the test,” the agency said. Later, it published an article
quoting several experts backing that argument.
Along with major doubts about the image, American intelligence officials had larger questions on exactly how many missiles were fired. One defense official said that “at least 7, and possibly up to 10″ had taken flight in all, though the intelligence data was still being sorted out. Only one of them was said to be a Shahab 3.
Throughout the day, several news sites have taken steps to disown the photograph that they ran on Wednesday, including and
In a sentiment no doubt echoed by news organizations everywhere, an MSNBC editor acknowledged that the four-missile picture was initially welcomed with open arms. “As the media editor working the home page yesterday, I was frustrated with the quality of a fuzzy video image we published of the Iranian missile launch,” said Rich Shulman, the network’s associate multimedia editor. “So I was thrilled when the top image crossed the news wires.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.

The Lede also published some amusing 'Comments of the Moment' including this one:

“I know that these missiles are part of a threat to wipe Israel off the map, but now they've proved that they have the Photoshop capabilities to do it.”
— sean gallagher

My take out from the above is that this is is the view of the NYT:

'We'll treat our mistake lightly, we'll make it clear we weren't the only ones suckered, including some other REALLY big names (i.e competitors), and it's kind of funny so it's actually no big deal.

That the image was Photoshopped to reveal a possible failed launch of a fourth missile (and you may note one taking off at a somewhat different trajectory to the others) isn't big news and is to be played down.'

I'm not sure that's how the NYT builds credibility in its brand.

(I remember an IHT editor, one of its most charming, Mike Getler, who wouldn't even let me allow film companies to use the IHT in major Hollywood films, if it involved some sort of fake - actually Photoshopped - headline to fit the story.

He explained to me that this was an important point to him - the reputation of the IHT should be one of total credibility and was not to be toyed with, even if it meant the loss of great brand exposure. So the film companies would always go to our big competitor, the FT.

Now, I don't believe those rules still apply at the NYT or the IHT.

What I also find remarkable is this comment:

"Does Iran’s state media use Photoshop? The charge has been leveled before."

Really? That was news to me.

In which case, might we not expect more of IHT and NYT photo editors when receiving images from Iranian state entities? An on-the-ball NYT would have broken this story, and what a great one it would have been. But as someone said, I guess 4 missiles creates more fear than 3.

I'd put this whole saga into the funny but actually not very funny category, and I'd like to have seen more about it in the subsequent editions.

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