Pelosi: Altered photograph of Congresswomen was 'accurate historical record'

Associated Press | BuzzFeed

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her office's use of Photoshop to represent some female lawmakers who arrived late for a photo shoot.

"It was an accurate historical record of who the Democratic women of Congress are," Pelosi told a news conference. "It also is an accurate record that it was freezing cold and our members had been waiting a long time for everyone to arrive and ... had to get back into the building to greet constituents, family members, to get ready to go to the floor. It wasn't like they had the rest of the day to stand there."

In a statement released Saturday, The National Press Photographers Association and the White House News Photographers Association point out that changes were made to the photograph beyond what Pelosi's office originally reported:

A further review of the photo shows that not only were the four missing Congresswomen added but that the image was also manipulated to show other Congresswomen who were blocked in the original photo as well as redoing the hair of another. Rather than being a true and “accurate historical record” as the House Minority Leader stated in her defense of the use of the photo, the hand-out represents an example of the dangers in using a manipulated official photograph, thus undermining the public’s trust in visual images.

Kenny Irby, Poynter's senior faculty for visual journalism, said the fact that the doctored photo was official is "the scary part of this." Such manipulation, he said, is usually the work of an organization trying to make a political point, like the doctored photo that made it look as if John Kerry and Jane Fonda appeared together at a Vietnam protest. Pelosi's use of the photo is "more like Russian propaganda," Irby said.

White House News Photographers Association President Ron Sachs also used the word "propaganda" when describing government handout photos:

"You gotta look at it for what it is," he told Poynter. "Elected officials are using Flickr and other social media sites more often in order to circumvent the watchful eye of the independent news-media, which continues to be a very disturbing trend. Today's 'doctored' photo is not a true representation of the moment that happened yesterday, which brings into question the integrity of photos released by the government. I encourage photo-editors to use the original, open-press photograph rather than the altered one because it reflects the true moment of history that Leader Pelosi was correct in trying to capture."

But photo editors looking out for fakes are harder to come by, Irby said. "I think many citizens would be surprised to find there are far fewer people in that role at mainstream media organizations," he said. Few of those organizations would run a handout photo, especially when there's an wire photo available, he said, but smaller news organizations might not know what to look for.

"The issue of the use of government hand out photos is something that the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) and other groups has been concerned with for sometime," National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher said via email. "Those dangers are further exacerbated at a time when news organizations are cutting staff and relying more on unvetted user generated content while the government and other organizations are seeking to exercise more control over access and their images."

Sachs praised White House photographer Pete Souza's work but said he often wished that some of the moments the White House makes available only to official photographs would be open to a pool. A pool might have captured a more nuanced photo during Mitt Romney's post-election visit to the White House, for example, he said.

Pelosi's office is merely the latest in a grand tradition of government bodies altering photographs: The Associated Press suspended pickup art from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2008 after it learned a photo of a Gen. Ann Dunwoody had been altered. More disturbingly, the royal family of Spain once altered a Christmas card to make it look like more members were present for a shoot. (Thanks to Albert Cuesta for pointing that out!)

Previously: Pelosi’s office releases doctored photo of female lawmakers

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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