At first everyone thought they were just blowing smoke, but the debunking of a Reuters photograph by a group of Web sites has launched a fiery online war in which bloggers have taken on the mainstream media. Bloggers, or writers on web logs, were the first to reveal that a Reuters photograph depicting plumes of black smoke rising over Beirut was doctored to enhance smoke above the city. The Web site www.LittleGreenFootballs.com is credited with first revealing the scandal, which has been dubbed Reutersgate, but the affair has spread far wider than the Reuters News Agency and into several of the most esteemed media outlets. More than a dozen accusations of staged or doctored photographs have made their way through various Web sites in the past several weeks. None has been treated by the news outlets as seriously as the original Reuters incident, which saw the photographer Adnin Hajj fired and over 900 of his photos removed from the Reuters wire list. But numerous other outlets - including the BBC, The New York Times and AP - have been forced to recall photos or change captions following inaccuracies pointed out in online forums. The fact that the online community rather than fellow mainstream media has become a watchdog of accuracy has surprised many who originally derided blogs as being "devoid of accuracy." "In a blog you don't have to be accurate to anyone but yourself and your readers," said Laya Millman from the Jewlicious.com blog. "There is a great deal of accountability because, if you get anything wrong, the readers will quickly, very quickly, point it out." As was demonstrated in the case with the Reuters photograph, blogs come with their own teams of investigators: the thousands of readers who stream through the site. Within hours of Charles Johnson's posting on Little Green Footballs, readers of the Web site had gone to work uncovering an array of damning evidence against Hajj, the most serious of which - a second doctored photograph, an Israeli plane altered to make it look as though it was dropping a series of bombs - may have pushed Reuters to fire Hajj after initially announcing that the freelance photographer would be suspended. That photograph, which was discovered by blogger Rusty Shackleford of The Jawa Report, included an illustrated account of how the photos had been doctored. Photographs whose veracity has been questioned by blogs in the past few weeks since Reutersgate began include:
Two pictures used by The Associated Press and Reuters, in which the same woman appeared to be crying over the destruction of her Beirut home. Distinguished by a red-checkered scarf and scar on her right cheek, the woman was pictured crying in front of two different locations two weeks apart.
Several photographs of a bombed bridge in Beirut which appear on Reuters and AFP with the different captions stating that the bridge had been bombed on July 18, July 24 and August 5. Bloggers claim that the striking image was photographed to look like several different bombings in order to make destruction in Beirut appear more severe.
In The New York Times photo essay "Attack on Tyre," a photograph of a man who appears dead is accompanied with the caption reading "bodies were still buried under the rubble." However, in a later photograph in the same series, the same man appears to be walking in the foreground of a photo. The Times issued a correction for the first photograph, stating that the man was injured.
Some claim that the online controversy over the photos has gotten out of hand, with many blogs now launching investigations and hurling accusations at a variety of news sources.
"These accusations can be very damning, and need to be handled with care and not thrown out by any angry blogger," said one anonymous poster on Little Green Footballs.
In the meantime, however, Little Green Footballs - along with many other online forums - has been flooded with investigations into mainstream media, with the entire army of its hundreds of thousands of readers eagerly at hand.