Doctored Reuters Photo of Beirut and the Manipulation of the Media

“We are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Ummah.” – Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi


Reuters’ faked photograph of Beirut burning, by Adnan Hajj. Click to view full size at Little Green Footballs.

Ayman al-Zawahiri’s words do not only apply to his al Qaeda and affiliated groups, but to all terrorist organizations. Terrorists do not employ terror tactics because of their military strength, but because of their military weaknesses; they have no hope of defeating modern militaries on the conventional battlefield. They seek to strike at the strategic weakness of democratic states: public opinion. They seek to erode the public’s will to fight terror groups. Terrorist organizations skillfully manipulate the media to propagate their message. And in some instances, the terrorists have willing accomplices within the media. The current war between Israel and Hezbollah provides examples of both media manipulation and accommodation.

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs provides a visual tutorial of how a Reuters photograph of Beirut is manipulated via PhotoShop. A scene of Beirut is altered, quite crudely, to include smoke plumes where none exist, to magnify Israeli air strikes in the city. Remarkably, as a result of Mr. Johnson and a host of blog’s investigations, Reuters has admitted the photograph has been tampered with and will no longer retain the services of Adnan Hajj, the photographer, who admitted to altering the photo (he claims he was trying to remove dust from the image). “As soon as the allegation came to light, the photograph, filed on Saturday 5 August, was removed from the file and a replacement, showing the same scene, was sent. The explanation for the removal was the improper use of photo-editing software,” said Moira Whittle, Reuters’ head of public relations. That such an obvious fake passed Reuters’ editorial staff is disturbing. And there may be more faked photos out there by Adnan Hajj.

The doctored photo is Adnan Hajj’s second brush with the blogs this week. Richard North of EU Referendum provides a look at how Hezbollah manipulated the media in the aftermath of the Israeli air strike in the Lebanese town of Qana. This incident was covered by the Jerusalem Post. Initially, 56 civilians were reported killed in Qana, but the number has been revised downward to 28. Mr. North looks at the images from Qana, and identifies what appears to be two Hezbollah operatives posing for the cameras as they shuttle selected child casualties and parade them by the penned up camera crew. One operative is actually photographed in his home, which is filled with photographs of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and has been identified in recovery work in the city of Tyre, again carrying corpses from the bomb scene. Adnan Hajj was one of the photographers at Qana. Reuters denies the photographs at Qana were staged.

Hezbollah also is notorious for providing ‘guided tours’ of scenes within Beirut. Charlie Moore, a CNN Senior Producer for Anderson Cooper, explains how Hezbollah staged such a tour for the CNN crew, which included a staged ambulance response and canned death to Israel and America chants. Yet there was very little discussion of this and other incidents other than at the CNN and on a weekend talk show. There are no exposes on how Hezbollah manipulates the press.

Hezbollah’s propaganda machine and Al Manar, Hezbollah’s “media” outlet, receive little to no criticism in the press. In fact, Israeli attempts to shut down Al Manar have been criticized by the International Federation of Journalists, which views Al Manar as a valid news organization, despite the fact the United States has designated it a terrorist entity.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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