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April 11, 2006

Bad Captioning vice Bad Journalism.

In the post below I mentioned I wasn't going to take responsibility for inept captioning on the part of the Armed Services when doing my propagandizing bit by publishing their pictures. Lord knows I took some grief over that recently...

That's bad captioning. And was caught by people who knew the subjects. The incident reflects haste and tiredness on my part, as I knew better, too. I just didn't look closely because I was trying to feed the blogmonster - which is explanation, not excuse. Some of that is explanation for this, too - and some is more sinister. Neil Munro, writing in National Journal, points out the problem as it applies to Big Media.

On January 14, for example, shortly after unmanned U.S. aircraft fired missiles at several suspected leaders of Al Qaeda who were thought to be staying in the village of Damadola, Pakistan, Agence France-Presse distributed a picture said to be from the scene. AFP is based in Paris, and the picture was sent by one of its locally hired photographers, a stringer. The photo showed a piece of military equipment placed on a damaged stone wall, flanked by a solemn old man and a young boy. Another firm, Getty Images, also distributed the photo to picture editors at newspapers and magazines around the world. The New York Times published it in the paper's January 14 Web edition, and Time magazine ran the picture in its January 23 print edition, along with the caption "Detritus from the latest U.S. raid in Pakistan."

We painfully put that to rest in our post here, where we picked apart the picture. And got picked a bit ourselves...

Showing (eventually) how it was most likely a Pakistani-made (and fired) 155mm artillery projectile. As the MSM, mainly because of bloggers, eventually figured out, too.

But the caption was wrong, the pose was staged, and the picture was, in essence, untrue. The initial AFP caption said that the military object was a piece of a missile from the U.S. strike. Later, AFP issued a correction, labeling the object an unexploded artillery shell.

I frankly can relate to this next bit, given the uneven quality of the US MILITARY'S OWN PHOTO WEBSITE'S CAPTIONING [emphasis *all* mine, baby!]:

Asked for comment on the whole subject of suspect images, photo directors from several U.S. publications said they do indeed worry about the reliability of images distributed by photo agencies, even the most respected ones. But they also said they want and need to trust the agencies and distributors, which include AFP, the Associated Press, Reuters, and Getty Images. In normal practice, photo directors receive a stream of digital images from the photo agencies, select the best of them, and then present them to editors, who decide which photographs to publish...

{major snippage}

For photo editors, new pressures to get it right are coming from Internet bloggers who collect and post critical comments from ordinary citizens and also from niche experts who may have intimate knowledge of the local culture, the U.S. military, or the particular news event in question, Elbert said. "We in the mainstream media have always decided what [images] we want to push out, but now people are disagreeing and questioning accuracy," he said. "This is really confounding the mainstream media."

That's us. And as the comments on *this* post show - bloggers get pressure, too. Of course, there is a difference between inept captions and deception. And the consequences of deception are far greater than simple mistakes. Around here we try to avoid the deception, but we're gonna have the mistakes!

And I would point out the right side of blogosphere has no mercy on it's own...

The whole National Journal article is available here.