Photo Manipulation Scandal Follows Same Old Script

The Sacramento Bee image at the center of the latest doctored news image scandal.

Surely we all know the script by now: A newspaper photographer gets caught manipulating a photo, the paper runs an apology with a statement about the newspaper’s zero-tolerance policy and a notice that the photographer has been fired; a trade organization villifies the photographer to warn others and keep the whole profession from going down a slippery slope to perdition. Along the way, a contrarian pundit may or may not weigh in.

So let’s fill in the blanks. The newspaper this time is The Sacramento Bee. The photographer is Bryan Patrick. The offending image showed a snowy egret gobbling a frog it had just snatched from a great egret. It was created from two images of the scene, one of which was the decisive moment of the theft, and the other of which had the better view of the frog in the snowy egret’s bill.

The paper published all three images an online correction and apology Feb 1, with reference to policy against photo manipulation, followed by a “to our readers” notice on Feb 4 announcing Patrick had been fired for violating the paper’s ethics policy. The note concluded with a recitation of the paper’s policy against the manipulation of photographs.

The president of NPPA called Patrick’s action a “betrayal” (in a story published by Poynter): “If this photographer in Sacramento can diddle around with a photograph of an egret, how can I know that any photograph I look at is trustworthy?” he asked.

The contrarian this time is On the Media host Bob Garfield, writing for The Guardian. He satirizes Patrick as “the Great Satan” and says “let him suffer the fate of the frog!” He then raises that pesky question: “Don’t all journalists alter reality?” Finally, he asks this rhetorical humdinger: “[d]id he [Patrick] misrepresent the story, or did he perhaps just make it clearer?”

But wait. The ritual isn’t over until Patrick’s peers pile on, either for him or against him. Readers?

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