Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Those Iranian Missiles

For the record, the print edition of the IHT compared the original photo and then the altered one on the front page; they also ran an article inside - what they didn't do on www.iht.com is add that the original photo that ran on www.iht.com with 'the missile story' (and which is still there for all to read, only the photo changed) was wrong and has been changed.

Now this article below.

My takeout is this: no-one is tackling just how easily the MSM, the IHT/NYT included, were duped. Whatever we now talk about, we won't talk about that.

And just as I was stupid enough to believe JMillar/WMD and that Tom Friedman is not a State Department spokesman, I was stupid enough to believe that a photo the IHT ran was reliable, despite the source being the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, despite there being a track record (so I later learnt) of the Iranians doing this sort of thing before.

Once again, the MSM won't ask the tough questions of itself, at least not in front of us, dear readers.

Believing is seeing

Newspapers and blogs are once again filled with a story about a digitally altered photograph. A picture of missiles launched by Iran. A picture that purports to show four missiles being fired rather than the three shown in other photographs of the launching. Are we to infer that no missiles were launched? Or just three? Take several steps back. Are we being tricked into thinking that Iran is a bigger threat than it is?
Oddly enough, the effect of all this publicity - including this essay - is to draw further attention to the missiles.
I have asked myself how this controversy over a photograph became international news. Clearly, there are many reasons. But at the center of them all is this question: Are we on the brink of another war? I remind myself that the war in Iraq started with bellicose posturing and photographs. At the United Nations, Colin Powell displayed several photographs of Iraqi sites showing incontrovertible evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Of course, we now know that this incontrovertible visual evidence was false. We don't need advanced digital tools to mislead, to misdirect or to confuse. All we need is a willingness to uncritically believe.
The alteration of photos for propaganda purposes has been with us as long as photography itself. But while digitally altered photographs can easily fool the eye, they often leave telltale footprints that allow them to be unmasked. There are many famous altered photographs, from a Matthew Brady photograph of Abraham Lincoln's head composited on to John Calhoun's body to the endlessly altered photographs from Soviet Russia. An entire book, "The Commissar Vanishes," by David King, is devoted to Soviet whims about who should be included (or deleted) in photographs. In the series shown here, Stalin is accompanied by three officials, then two, then one, as they successively fall out of favor and are cropped and airbrushed into non-existence. (In the end, in a painting based on the photograph, he stands alone.) We understand Stalin's intentions by removing comrades, but what is the purpose of these Iranian missile photographs? They are clearly altered. The question remains: Why, and to what end?
The government of Iran could not have created a more self-serving controversy. It has focused our attention on Iranian military might more than ever. What will we remember - the digital manipulation of this photograph or the missiles streaking into the sky? Will we ask about essential details - the range or the payload of these weapons? All we are left with is a threat in visual form.

The photographs tell us little about the real threat of Iran. The danger here is not in three missiles versus four. We do not understand the intentions behind the photograph - real or digitally manipulated. Is it a threat? A warning? Or a bluff? All we really know about the photograph is that Tehran wanted to get the attention of the world, and it succeeded.
Errol Morris, a filmmaker, writes the "Zoom" column for The New York Times online.


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