Except it appears he wasn’t. Subsequent reporting by media organizations indicated that the child more likely died as a result of an errant rocket launched from within Gaza. In effect, the photos may have revealed the opposite of what they purported to show — that the child’s death was inflicted by Palestinian sources, not Israeli.
Reuters, which had circulated the photos, quickly issued a clarification saying the cause of the boy’s death was in dispute. CNN cast doubt on its initial reporting, too, saying the incident could have been caused by “the misfire of a Hamas rocket intended for Israel.”
Some news organizations, including The Post, declined to publish the photos because they suggested exploitation — and manipulation of tragedy.
“Every single alarm went off in my head when I saw them,” Golon said. “They looked like a media event around a dead child. They should not be parading this child’s body around for PR purposes.”
But displaying corpses as evidence of an enemy’s barbarity is an accepted practice in some parts of the world, and sometimes it’s news, said Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography for the Associated Press. He cautions that any news photo needs to be set in its proper context, with captions that spell out “the same who, what, why” as a news story.
“The idea is to leave as few unanswered questions as you can,” he said. “If we have a doubt and can’t say something with authority, we’re probably not going to go there.” (AP’s photographers didn’t take the photos of the dead boy, but it distributed the pictures through a content-sharing agreement with another agency, Rex Features).
While photos often portray reality in ways more powerful than words, they can also easily distort. As Lyon notes, context is important: Cropping, inaccurate captioning or staging an image for effect can distort what’s really there.
Digital photo-altering tools also have made it easy to create outright fabrications — ”faux-tography” — although there are only a few documented cases of it slipping into the journalistic ecosystem. Reuters was blindsided in 2006 when a freelance photographer in Lebanon digitally altered a photo to make an Israeli attack on Beirut look more destructive. The agency withdrew the picture and severed ties with the photographer.
“We made a mistake,” said Alix Freedman, Reuters’s global editor of ethics and standards. “We dealt with it decisively and quickly and learned from it.”
Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine said the best advice for journalists is the same as in any other conflict — to remain skeptical of both sides. “There is in this world fairness, and a sense of proportion,” he said. “If you find yourself identifying with one side, it’s time to get a new job.”