It’s a shame, and I mean that unironically. When the scandal broke, they investigated promptly, fired Hajj, and pulled not only the two photoshopped photos but 900 more that he had taken. Tom Glocer, Reuters’s CEO, has been admirably candid about digital manipulation within the news industry, and even went so far as to credit Charles Johnson by name in a speech. It was refreshing to see a major media outlet respond to bloggers with civility instead of dismissing them as “partisan political operatives,” as Dan Rather did, or a “mad blog rabble,” as Kathleen Carroll did (as paraphrased by the New York Times).
But follow that last link and you’ll find Charles asking a good question, made even better by the news about the secret photo editor firing:
Notice how Glocer says they discovered only two photographs that were altered. Yet they immediately removed Adnan Hajj’s entire category and never talked about it again. Were there other altered photographs in there? We’ll apparently never know; the evidence has been “disappeared,” and Reuters seems to have no intention of discussing it.
As it turns out, not only were the photos disappeared, so were the people who knew the most about them. It’s hard not to suspect foul play; otherwise, why fire the editor on the sly? And why blame the editor, anyway? Back in August, Reuters was singing a different tune about how those photoshopped pics ended up on the wires:
Hajj’s two doctored photos made it onto the Reuters wire during a time when the service relaxed its editing procedures to allow prompt filing of photos from the Middle East. According to Reuters, Hajj has filed 43 photos directly through the agency’s global picture desk, rather than through an editor in Beirut as is standard procedure, since the Israel-Lebanon conflict began July 12.
If the policy at the time explicitly authorized photographers to bypass editors, then why fire the editor here? Is it because he/she was responsible for having set the direct-filing policy? Or was the direct-filing policy nonsense cooked up at the time to make it look like the problem was limited to one rogue stringer instead of having infected the editorial chain of command?
Update: It was “human error,” says Reuters:
We are fully satisfied, as we conclude our extensive investigation, that it was unfortunate human error that led to the inadvertent publication of two rogue photographs. There was absolutely no intention on Reuters part to mislead the public.