Journalists Face the Challenges of Wartime Ethics: Los Angeles Times Photographer Loses Job over Manipulated Photo

By Anna Nguyen, Silha Research Assistant

An editor's note in the Los Angeles Times on April 2, 2003, revealed
the newspaper had published an altered front page news photograph in violation
of its own policy. The photograph, published on March 31, 2003, showed
a British soldier directing Iraqi civilians to take cover from Iraqi fire
on the outskirts of Basra. The headline beneath the photo read, "In Basra,
Panic as a Tactic of War." The published photo was a composite of two
separate images he had taken.

The altered photo and the two photos used to create it were shown on
page A6 of the Los Angeles Times' April 2 issue. In one of the
original photos, an Iraqi is holding a baby in a blanket near a British
soldier. In the other photo, the soldier is signaling to the crowd, but
the baby is less visible.

The photo was shared with other Tribune Company properties using Newscom,
the Chicago-based company's internal picture distribution service, according
to a column by Kenny F. Irby with contributions from Larry Larson at the
Poynter Institute Online (http://www.poynter.org/content/
content_view.asp?id=28082
). The Hartford Courant and The Chicago

Tribune placed the photo prominently in their publications on March
31.
Thom McGuire, the Hartford Courant assistant managing editor,
decided to use the photo on the front page after reviewing 500 photos
from various news sources. "It was a great image," McGuire told Poynter.
"[But] I missed the manipulation, and I feel bad for everyone involved."

A Hartford Courant employee looking through the images found that
several civilians in the background appeared twice.
The Los Angeles Times reached the photographer, Brian Walski,
by telephone in southern Iraq on April 1. Walski said he had used his
computer to combine elements of two photographs. Walski, a Los Angeles
Times
photographer since 1998, was dismissed from the staff as a result
of this manipulation.

Managing Editor Dean Baquet called the decision both "painful and easy,"
according to the Washington Post. "Any time you make up anything
at all, you shouldn't be working at a newspaper. He made this picture
something we're not even sure occurred. He heightened the drama of the
picture. It's like changing a quote to make it more dramatic."

"We're baffled," Baquet told the Washington Post. "His explanation
was that he wanted to improve the picture. It's heartbreaking. People
believe that newspapers screw around with pictures for political reasons.
In his case it was an aesthetic thing."

The Guardian of London reported that Walski, an award-winning
photographer, has covered international stories including the Gulf war,
the famine in Somalia, the funeral of Princess Diana and the conflicts
in Northern Ireland and Kashmir.

Irby's Poynter column further reported that Walski wrote an e-mail to
the entire photography staff admitting to his lack of judgment and accepting
responsibility for his action.

The article also contains links depicting how the two photographed were
combined.

Irby further states that Poynter questioned Don Bartletti, another staff
photographer for the Los Angeles Times working in Iraq, about the
effect of fatigue and other war conditions that could have affected Walski.
Bartletti said, "[Walski] got into a zone. He was on a head roll, making
fantastic images, and it got out of hand. He told me that he did not plan
to send the image, but he did it. With all that he was facing, how did
he have the presence of mind?"

Los Angeles Times spokeswoman Martha Goldstein told the Associated
Press on April 2, "In all these situations, you rely on the good judgment
and integrity of the people who work for you. . . . This is a very, very
rare instance."

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on November 9, 2009 10:57 AM.

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