BP publishes altered photos and blurs reality – and the public's trust – even more

Still struggling with its oil blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has posted at least three Photoshopped pictures on its Web site.
The photos were spotlighted by the Gawker Web site earlier this week. The company has responded and a spokesman said the latest photo would be removed from BP's site.

The photograph, taken from inside a helicopter, purports to show the fleet of ships around the damaged oil well. But the photographer used Photoshop to remove the portions of the ship's deck that were visible, making it look as if the helicopter was in flight. The photo was taken from inside the helicopter overlooking the spill site.

Americablog also found two other BP photos that were altered. In those photos, changes were minor but still embarrassing for an already-embattled company. The company has since placed all three photos, in both the original and doctored states, on Flickr.

The concept of altering photographs isn't a new one. The iconic photo of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln's head and John Calhoun's body. A famed photo of General William T. Sherman with his generals was doctored to include General Francis P. Blair, circa 1865. Stalin was known to routinely request his enemies to be brushed out of photographs. Benito Mussolini had a horse handler removed from a portrait in 1942, which showed Mussolini mounted on a horse. He believed it would make the photo look more heroic.

In more recent days, the cover of TV Guide in 1989 featured Oprah Winfrey's head on Ann-Margaret's body. In 1994, New York Newsday featured Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding on their cover, and it appeared they were skating together, which was not the case. A famous Time magazine cover in 1994 featured O.J. Simpson's photo, which had been manipulated to make him appear more sinister. And in 2008, Sarah Palin's head was famously placed atop a woman wearing a red, white and blue bikini and brandishing a gun.

On a more recent note, President Barack Obama was depicted standing on a Louisiana beach, head hanging low, with an oil rig in the distance, off-shore. Reuters Photoshopped both Admiral Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Louisiana parish resident Charlotte Randolph out of the photo, making it appear that Obama was alone and despondent about the Gulf oil spill. The reality was that he simply looked down at the sand at some point during the conversation.

Media outlets are doing this type of thing more and more frequently, and calling them photo illustrations, rather than photos. But is it ethical? Many journalists and photojournalists see this type of manipulation as a threat to journalism's integrity and credibility, and say such actions crosses an ethical line. The bottom line is this: you cannot change reality. Publishing even photo illustrations labeled as such, blurs standards. And in an age when people are putting down newspapers and magazines and turning to the Internet for information, the media cannot afford this type of deception.

And neither can BP.

Published Friday, July 23, 2010 4:16 PM by bulldog
Add to Bloglines Add to Del.icio.us Add to digg Add to Facebook Add to Google Bookmarks Add to Newsvine Add to reddit Add to Stumble Upon Add to Shoutwire Add to Squidoo Add to Technorati Add to Yahoo My Web