Here’s A “Little List” Worth Perusing: Fake News Clues

The pop-culture-trivia-snark-list website Cracked (and how sad is it that the site based on the inferior magazine knock-off of Mad Magazine is still going and Mad has bitten the metaphorical dust?) has a post listing twenty ways not to be fooled by fake news. It starts out,

Thanks to the Twitters and the Facebooks of the world, these days we pretty much just get our “news” from the clickbait headlines we see while scrolling through poorly-made but still hilarious memes. Which sucks, because it’s pretty much ruining society. So here’s how to avoid becoming an uninformed angry internet denizen in the future.

Among the article’s observations:

  • Don’t trust The Daily Mail. I knew it was basically a rag, but I didn’t know the Daily Mail has overtaken the New York Times as the most visited news website.

I’ve never used the Daily Mail for a story without checking other sources, but he’s right; it’s lazy. I won’t use it from now on.

  • The use of the term “after ” in a headline implies causation that is often not there.

This is a New York Times specialty, particularly on Trump-bashing stories by reporter Maggie Halberman.

  • The post warns of headlines that are composed to nab clicks but that do not accurately reflect the content of the story beneath..

Another New York Times specialty.

  • This one was unintentionally funny, especially in the midst of the rest:

What reputable news sources? As the list amply demonstrates, there aren’t any! Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Obama-Farrakhan Photo”

I don’t think I agree with this comment regarding the post about how a  photograph of Senator Obama smiling next to Louis Farrakhan came to be hidden from public view until now, and how its reappearance has launched speculation on the Right that Obama was elected by a public unaware of his radical, anti-white proclivities. It is a very interesting comment, though, and raises several excellent issues about how actions, motives and truth interact. I may author a detailed rebuttal in the comments, but the core question this raises is this: To what extent does the fact that an action was taken to hide something serve as material evidence that there that something that needed to be hidden?

The results of the Ethics Alarms poll asking what the photo proved, incidentally, was that 86% of those voting believed that it proved nothing regarding Obama’s feelings to toward Farrakhan  at all.

Here is johnburger2013‘s Comment of the Day on the post, The Obama-Farrakhan Photo:

Methinks our faithful ethics blogger is being, according to our friends across the pond, a bit “cheeky”, hoping to inspire a lively debate, knowing fully well that a photo of Trump with David Duke would be conclusive evidence that the present Chief Executive Officer of the US is merely waiting for his hood to come back from the cleaners so that he can don it and go out for a fun night on the town.

For me, the real ethics issue is not the photo, but that Congressional Black Caucus leaned on a journalist to kill its publication and the journalist capitulated. Other Bill, VPJ and Charles Marschner are correct: publication of the photo (probably) would not have changed the 2008 election results.

But, let’s ask the bigger question: Why kill it?

First, who is Askia Muhammad? According to Wikipedia, he is a poet, journalist, radio producer, commentator, and a photojournalist. He has served as the editor of Muhammad Speaks and as the head of the Washington office of The Final Call, the official newspapers of the Nation of Islam, which incidentally, is the organization headed by the right-honorable Louis Farrakhan, from Chicago, IL. (Who else was from Chicago? Might it have been a little-known senator but rising star in the Democrat party? Hmmm.) Continue reading

An Unethical Photo And Caption, And The Ethics Fog Of A Baseball Fight

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals is grabbed by Jonathan Papelbon #58 in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on September 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 538595765 ORIG FILE ID: 490330798

According to USA Today and many other reputable news sources, Washington Nationals pitcher Jonathan Papelbon “choked” team mate Bryce Harper in a dugout altercation in full view of fans and TV cameras during yesterday’s loss to the Phillidelphia Phillies. The photo above, freezing the moment in which Papelbon’s hand touched Harper’s neck, was presented full page width in the Nats’ home town paper, the Washington Post.

Now here’s the video:

Papelbon’s hand was on Harper’s throat for less than a second, as opposed to the impression given by the still, in which you can almost hear Harper gagging ACK! GAH! LLLLGGGGHHH!  The USA Today headline “Bryce Harper was choked by Jonathan Papelbon in Nationals’ dugout fight” is pure sensationalism and an intentional misrepresentation. I’m not even certain Papelbon was trying to choke Harper, but if he was, he failed immediately because Harper backed away.

This incident transcends its context for ethical interest, because it demonstrates how much context and biases influence public and media assessments of right and wrong.

First, some context: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Controversial Photo



Sometimes cheating isn’t cheating at all, but a just a different interpretation of the rules. And sometimes, it’s just cheating.

The World Press Photo contest just stripped “The Dark Heart of Europe,” a 10-photo series by Giovanni Troilo about life in Charleroi, Belgium, of a first prize after the judges decided that he had misrepresented the location of one of the  images. But before proof of the mislabeling of one of the photos settled the matter—Troilo had taken one of the images in the artist’s studio outside Brussels and not in Charleroi as the series titles had represented—another of the images in his entry had caused a rules dispute.

 Troilo had photographed his cousin having sex with a woman in the back of a car, using a remote-control flash to illuminate the steamy back seat. By putting a flash in the car, the stickers said, Troilo had effectively staged the photo, violating the ethics of  photojournalism and the rules of the contest.

The original caption on the photo posted on the World Press Photo website was, “locals know of parking lots popular for sexual liaisons.” The photographer said he had made it clear to World Press Photo that he had followed his cousin on a night when his cousin had planned to have sex, and had his cousin’s consent to place the flash device in the car. World Press Photo rules state that “staging is defined as something that would not have happened without the photographer’s involvement.”

Troilo argues that his photo of the sexual liaison qualified under this definition. He didn’t tell his cousin to have sex in the car, and it would have happened whether he photographed it or not. “This is not a stolen photo of a couple caught unawares,” the photographer said, explaining that his goal was “to show voyeurism through voyeurism. The camera becomes active; it becomes the sense of shame.”

Other photojournalists argue that by conspiring with one of his subjects to illuminate the event, Troilo left the realm of photojournalism and entered that of .  portraiture. One of the harsher critics wrote on Facebook, “The photojournalists we want to represent do not call upon their cousins to fornicate in a car.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is:

Did Troilo cheat under the photojournalism rules by planting a flash in the car where his cousin was planning to have sex?

Continue reading

Update: “Ethics Quiz: Photojournalism And The President’s Meaningful, Meaningless Bowed Head”


Putin and obama2

Last weekend’s Ethics Quiz involving the photojournalism ethics of publishing a photo appearing to show President Obama in a submissive or shamed posture as Vladmir Putin passed was handicapped by the mysterious unavailability of the photo in question, which the Washington Post published at least twice but has not made available on-line, even to accompany letters criticizing it. Well, the Post published the photo, in its print edition, yet again today and still I cannot track it down on the Post website. One reason appears to be that it comes from a Russian news agency.

I have found the version above, however, taken by the same photographer a split second after the one in question. In this one, Putin has just passed the President; in the photo the Post used, he was just about to pass him. The expression and postures of everyone in the two photos are the same.

You may want to reconsider the post “Ethics Quiz: Photojournalism And The President’s Meaningful, Meaningless Bowed Head”with it, rather than what I used last week, in mind.

(And why didn’t anyone tell me that the “a” and the “l” in “photojournalism” were transposed in the headline?)


Ethics Quiz: Photojournalism And The President’s Meaningful, Meaningless Bowed Head

Putin and Obama

I am looking at a black and white AP photograph re-published from the Washington Post’s front page on September 7. It is similar to the one above, taken seconds before it, and from straight on rather than an angle. That photo, like the one above, shows Vladamir Putin, joining the other attendees at last week’s Group of 20 summit for their formal group photo, but in the one I am looking at Putin is striding across the group to the end of the line, eyes forward, as the rest look on. President Obama alone is standing head bowed as Putin passed, while the other leaders look forward. Unlike the photo above, Obama’s bowed head appears to be in reaction to Putin, but not an effort to listen to something the Russian leader is saying or has said, which is how I would interpret the photo above. The photo above seems relaxed and collegial; the one I am looking at depicts tension. [UPDATE 9/21: A much closer version of the photo is question can be seen here.]

That photograph prompted these criticisms from two Post readers over the weekend.

Mary-Anne Enoch wrote in part…

“I was upset by the photo chosen for the Sept. 7 front page, showing the assembly of the Group of 20 leaders for their traditional “family photograph.”
In that photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin is confidently striding across a stage while others are smiling and probably paying no attention to him. Except for President Obama: In sharp contrast to the rest, he appears to be subservient, shrunken and diminished. His stance reminded me of Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of a long-serving White House butler in a recent movie….it is outrageous that The Post should have selected [ the photo] to accompany an article on the very important and delicate negotiations involving the United States, Russia and Syria.”

Reader Charlotte Stokes had a similar reaction:

“Surely, the wire-service photographer took dozens of pictures, including at least one when the Group of 20 leaders formally posed. So why did The Post choose this one to grace the front page? The photo presented our president in a less-than-honorable light. Given the challenges he faces internationally, why cast doubt on his abilities by sending subliminal messages of this kind?”

[I recognize that it would be better if you could see the actual photo rather than read my description of it accompanied by one that is similar but not quite the same. Interestingly, the Post appears to have purged the picture I am writing about from its website: it does not even use it to accompany the letters about the photo, which it normally would, and which good practice would demand. The photo above, which was widely used by other sources, is the closest I could find, other than the print version that was in my Post on Saturday. If someone can find the actual photo and send me the link, I’d be very grateful.]

Here is your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz to kick off what promises to be an ethically alarming week, on the always tricky topic of photojournalism:

Was it unethical for the Post have prominently run a photograph that presented President Obama in an unfavorable, arguably subservient or weak posture? Continue reading

Magazine Cover Ethics: The Cute Terrorist and The Rolling Stone Boycott


Is it just my flawed impression, or are Americans increasingly less supportive of free speech, free thought, and artistic expression? If so, that is a worrisome development for our democracy and its culture, and if so, yes, I believe the willingness of our government and its leaders to maneuver around the Bill of Rights in “ends justify the means” conduct has fueled the trend.

Now Rolling Stone is the target. The Sixties magazine icon had the nerve to place Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaevon its latest edition’s cover, looking like a male model, and, we hear, the families of the victims are outraged and their communities prefer their sensibilities over liberty. Jumping on the bandwagon, retailers have decided to make all publications afraid to challenge its readers by announcing that they won’t sell the issue in Boston, and there are hints of an advertiser boycott.

Unfair, un-American, dangerous and silly. Continue reading

The Misleading Photo And A Senator’s Trauma: Emotions Over Reason In Policymaking And Public Opinion

misleading photo

Here is Senator Diane Feinstein explaining her qualifications to lead the charge on Capital Hill to restrict firearms, after Sen Ted Cruz (R-Tx) implied that she was not sufficiently schooled in the Second Amendment: “I’m not a sixth grader. Senator, I’ve been on the committee for 20 years,” Feinstein said angrily. “I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot, I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons, I’ve seen the bullets that implode. And Sandy Hook youngsters were dismembered… I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years, I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” Her emotional statement echoed her similar response to a challenge during another assault weapon ban debate, twenty years ago, when she was a freshman and could not cite her legislative experience. Then she said,

“I am quite familiar with firearms. I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague [Harvey Milk] and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”

So now we know. Diane Feinstein has reason to know guns can kill people, and has been personally traumatized by them. That is supposed to qualify her as a cool, rational, balanced and fair legislator in deliberations over whether citizens who have never broken the law and don’t intend to can buy the weapons they want to. Continue reading

The Man On The Subway Tracks


Subway Headline

It is destined to become a classic case in photojournalism ethics. Someone pushed 58-year-old Ki Suk Han pushed onto a 49th Street station  subway track in New York City. R. Umar Abbasi,  a New York Post freelance photographer was  on the platform when it happened, and took a photo as the subway train bore down on the terrified man. He was killed, and the photo became a lurid, if dramatic, Post front page.

There have been many ethical questions raised about the incident. Let’s examine them.

Was it ethical for the New York Post run the photo?

This is the easiest of the issues: of course it was. The photo is dramatic, the incident was news, the paper had an exclusive, and readers were interested. The Post might have decided that it would be in better taste not to run the photo, and that decision might be praiseworthy. Still, there is no good argument to be made that such a photograph is outside the range of acceptable items for publication. By the ethical standards of 21st Century journalism, admittedly low, the Post’s call isn’t even close to the line. Objections to the photo on ethical grounds are pure “ick factor.” Continue reading

The AP’s Revolting Romney Photo: As Low As It Goes

The AP has apologized for running this misleading, undignified, offensive photograph of Mitt Romney, suggesting that he was happily mooning a shocked girl. In fact, he was in the act of sitting down for a photo, and the girl was showing surprise that the presidential candidate would be sitting next to her.

Apology not accepted. Continue reading