An Aug. 13 column by Rick Wiley, the Arizona Daily Star Visual Team leader/photography, has drawn the attention--and ire--of some staff members at the afternoon newspaper, the Tucson Citizen.
Wiley's editorial, "Doctoring Photos Is Morally Wrong," discussed the recent repercussions involving a Reuters photographer who added smoke to an image of an Israeli bombing target in Lebanon.
Wiley wrote: "Photographers at the Star know the value of credibility. They know their employment rests on this bedrock principle. ... Do they 'stage' photographs? No.
"Do they alter photographs to deceive the readers? Never."
However, Citizen photographer Francisco Medina takes issue with the Star's claims: He says he was the victim of a cropping incident.
The photo in question occurred at a Desert Diamond Casino boxing event on May 5, 2005. Medina was on the turnbuckle at ring level, snapping photos of the winner, boxer David Lopez.
The Star photo of the same event is taken from a vantage point on the opposite side of the ring. In the photo, it appears the boxer is posing with a belt; a Citizen photo obtained by the Weekly shows the same scene. However, the Citizen photographer is nowhere to be found.
Well, that's not entirely accurate. The Star photo shows a mysterious arm resting against the turnbuckle--just the arm. There's no body attached to the arm, no head with a camera. Meanwhile, an unidentified man is visible on the left side of the frame on the canvas at ring level behind Lopez, who is straddling the bottom ropes in the corner.
After looking at the photo in question, Wiley says it meets or exceeds the Star's standards. Furthermore, he says the Star did not remove Medina from the photo.
"No, I think it's an angle," Wiley said. "If you look at the lighting and the angle, he's at such a steep angle behind the padding there that it's an illusion, essentially."
That's not how Medina sees it.
"If you look at that image, my arm is hanging there," the Citizen photographer said. "Something happened to my entire head and my body through those turnbuckles. If you look at the post I'm holding on to, my body would be directly under my arm, and my head would be right above it getting that image.
"There's no way my body shouldn't be in that image. There was some serious doctoring of that image. From my point of view, as someone who works on our photos all the time, there's no way lighting could have caused that. That image was doctored. It went around our newsroom, and everyone was blown away by it."
Clearly, altering a post-bout boxing photo isn't the same as altering a high-impact image of an international conflict. There's no political statement to be made, no pressure to create instant impact. If the photo was doctored--and again, Wiley says it wasn't--the reason would presumably be because the competition was prominent in the frame.
"That's exactly what it boils down to, not having a Citizen photographer in the image," Medina said. "For us, we'd have no problem, but if there would have been a Star photographer in one of our images, we would have found a different image."
Said Wiley, "We try to avoid it, but if it's a good photograph, we'll deal with it."
This, in my view, is one of the more perplexing issues constantly perpetrated by the media, whether print, radio, television or Internet-based. There's this paranoia about giving free advertising to the competition. Logically, how many people in the viewing audience really pay attention to another photographer in the frame, or some other station's microphone logo in a press conference setting? Does anyone watching actually change the station or read the other newspaper because a visual representing the competition catches the eye? Do the folks who seem endlessly paranoid about this sort of thing really believe the reading, listening or viewing audience doesn't know other media outlets exist and also cover the same events?
Absurd paranoia aside, Medina believes Wiley's comments put the Star in a bad light.
"Now they have themselves in a pickle," Medina said. "Someone along the way, either the photographer or the people who work on the images for them, saw that and removed me out of it or darkened me out of that image. You consider this situation with the Reuters photographer who got canned ... or the other photographer back East who got fired for the sky being changed, (and) you think of this case where something was obviously removed, a hanging arm in this image that belongs to a body, and the body's now gone? And nothing happened here?
"There is a serious lack of ethics going on, and somebody's not 'fessing up to it. That's what it boils down to. Where do ethics begin, and where do ethics stop? For them to deny it or just not acknowledge it, something's wrong here. For them to come out and take a soapbox and take the high road ... for them to say 'never,' they never deceive the public--come on. Someone got deceived here. There's a hanging arm. Somewhere along the way, someone got deceived, and it was their public. The ones who saw that image, they were duped.
"It doesn't meet (the Citizen's) standards. There's no way we could actually remove someone's body or darken up a photo to totally remove somebody. There's no way we could do that."
Wiley maintains there's no way the Star would do that, either.
"It's like I say, sometimes, these photographs present people with bizarre elements," Wiley said. "That's the way they look. We don't mess with them. We let them go."