“Fauxtography” is a sarcastic neologism coined in 2006 to describe faked or phony images being passed off as news by legitimate media outlets. After a series of public embarrassments and mini-scandals, the major news services seem to have clamped down on the practice in recent years, and nowadays “fauxtographs” can generally only be found in the press releases of totalitarian regimes like Iran and North Korea.
But, as first noticed by user Tanner68 on the Calguns firearms forum, this week Associated Press has apparently let its guard down and unwittingly been duped by one of its own stringers into putting its official stamp of approval on a series of images from Lebanon which seem staged. (I say “unwittingly” here to be generous to AP; unless more evidence comes out that they intentionally perpetrated the hoax, it’s a safe bet that they probably just didn’t notice how phony the images looked.)
1. Digitally manipulating images after the photographs have been taken.
2. Photographing scenes staged by Hezbollah [or any other group] and presenting the images as if they were of authentic spontaneous news events.
3. Photographers themselves staging scenes or moving objects, and presenting photos of the set-ups as if they were naturally occurring.
4. Giving false or misleading captions to otherwise real photos that were taken at a different time or place.
These new Lebanese AP fauxtographs seem to be of Type 2: Fake battle scenes that were staged for the camera by Sunni rebels, photographed by a local stringer, and then submitted to AP, which then released them as legitimate news photos.
Are these images of real gun battles, or simply guys posing for the camera? You be the judge:
Source and official caption: “Sunni gunmen fire during clashes, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday May 13, 2012. Gunfire broke out in the city Saturday and continued through the night primarily between a neighborhood populated by Sunni Muslims who hate Syrian President Bashar Assad and another area with many Assad backers from his Alawite sect. Lebanon’s national news agency NNA said one soldier was shot dead by a sniper in the city early Sunday. Another man was found dead on the side of a road while a third died after a shell landed in a residential neighborhood. Photo: Hussein Malla / AP”
Source and official caption: “(Hussein Malla/ Associated Press) – A Sunni gunman fires during a clashes, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday May 13, 2012. Gunfire broke out in the city Saturday and continued through the night primarily between a neighborhood populated by Sunni Muslims who hate Syrian President Bashar Assad and another area with many Assad backers from his Alawite sect.”
Source (same caption as above).
Source and official caption: “A Sunni gunman moves his position during clashes, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday May 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)”
You can find several more pictures from the same series simply by doing an image search for “Hussein Malla” and “Associated Press”.
Readers with military experience are probably already laughing at the images, but in case it isn’t obvious to everyone else: The gunmen are purportedly taking cover (behind a useless pile of tires) and firing at an unseen enemy, but right next to them are several unconcerned bystanders who are themselves completely exposed to any return fire, and yet making no effort to hide or seek protection. Instead, many of them are standing around calmly and even laughing and smiling (as are the gunmen in some of the pictures), probably at the ridiculousness of the obviously staged battle.
It could very well be that these very same men were indeed involved in real gun battles immediately before or after these photos were taken; but in these specific images they seem to have staged an attempted re-creation of what an heroic firefight would have looked like, if it had been photographed in real time.
Because these pictures were released by Associated Press, the largest and mostly widely subscribed news service in the country, the images were reprinted in hundreds of major newspapers and Web sites. And yet as far as I can tell, no editors expressed doubts about the authenticity of the scene.
As far as fauxto scandals goes, this one is fairly minor and not particularly significant in relation to world events. Most Americans, truth be told, can barely even discern the difference between the different Islamic sects doing battle in Lebanon. Instead of this being an example of fauxtography as political propaganda, it’s more likely in this case that the photographer, Hussein Malla, simply wanted to boost his career and reputation by being the only one to capture exciting battle scenes as they were happening. He slipped these staged images in amongst his real images, and apparently his AP editors didn’t notice.