Monday, August 07, 2006

Reuters pulls doctored photo

Reuters had to perform the embarrassing act of admitting that one of their photos was doctored, and pulled it from their website. Another such embarrassing episode happened in 2004, when CBS had to recant the news report of military documents that were critical of George W. Bush when he was in the service. The document was spotted as fake within hours, due largely to the fact that the type was perfectly aligned - which was not consistent with typewriters of the time, but rather that of one of today's computers.

Fortunately, acts such as these are very infrequent, and the vast majority of editors do their job like they're supposed to and catch most of the problematic reports and photos. However, some do slip by, as demonstrated in '04 and yesterday. It is said that the only commodity that journalists sell is the truth. So when bad things like this happen, how they react to it makes all the difference in the world as to the kind of trust and respect that its readers will give it.

In '04, it took CBS two weeks and a lot of denials before they owned up to the fake documents. Especially pathetic was Dan Rather's excuse saying, in essence, "While the documents are fake, it's based on the truth." While Rather might have genuinely believed that, it still came across as a desperate act of ass-covering.

Reuters took the right path and simply owned up to it right away and put it behind them. That's the second time in recent days that we have witnessed the right way of dealing with potential scandal. Last week, Mel Gibson dealt with his problematic (to say the least) statements by apologizing for them right away, and then doing so again with more emphasis rather than letting this issue fester for a week or longer before replying.

There's a lesson in all this: When caught red-handed, just own up to it. Performing desperate acts of ass-covering only makes you look worse. Kudos to Reuters for dealing with this right off the bat.

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