On Deceptive Media and Photojournalism

Photo of slain suspected drug pusher being held by weeping partner.
Photo of slain suspected drug pusher being held by weeping partner.

During President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) he called out a recent photograph published at the Inquirer showing a slain Michael Siargo, a suspected drug pusher, being held by his partner as if it is being portrayed as Mary carrying the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. The President called out the broadsheet as overly dramatic in its depiction of Siargo’s demise. I, for one, believe that there may have been a shade of deceptive photojournalism from the Inquirer there and I am glad that the President called out the Inquirer on that one. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The problem is, things are not always what they seem. While photojournalism is a useful tool to capture and record events, it can also be a powerful weapon to advance an agenda or an ideology. As people continue to get better access to information, I am hoping that more people will begin to exercise more critical thinking instead of easily succumbing to intellectual malleability from deceptive media and photojournalism.

Photo of a South Vietnamese official summarily executing a Vietnamese man.
Photo of a South Vietnamese official summarily executing a Vietnamese man.

One example of where photojournalism has taken a life of its own was when Eddie Adams took a picture of a Vietnamese man being shot in the head at point blank range by a uniformed official during the Vietnam War. The image moved people around the world (particularly in America) to hate American soldiers and their South Vietnamese partners as they were depicted to be abusive, cruel and engaged in unjust summary executions. But it turned out the man shot was a Viet Cong captain and prior to his execution he just cold bloodedly murdered not only a South Vietnamese colonel but also the colonel’s civilian family members. So the lie in the photo was the omission of context. Eddie Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo but he later expressed regret for it. The man who shot the Viet Cong was South Vietnamese Major General Loan. Adams said:

“The General killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the General at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?’ Adams felt that, by taking the photo, he had ruined Loan’s life. He felt Loan was a good man, in a bad situation, and he deeply regretted the negative impact that the photo had on him.”

Major General Loan later on moved to the United States. When he arrived, the Immigration and Nationalization Services (INS) wanted to deport him because of the infamous photo. Adams had to testify on behalf of Loan just so that he would not get deported. Loan opened up a pizza restaurant but was forced to close it when his identity was disclosed. He died of cancer in 1998 and Adams, in his eulogy for Loan said:

“The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.”

Photo of a British soldier towering over Iraqi civilians.
Photo of a British soldier towering over Iraqi civilians.

Another example of deceptive photojournalism can be seen in a published photo by the Los Angeles Times during the Iraq War. In the photo (taken from AngeLingo), you can see a British soldier gesturing strongly at Basra Iraqi civilians crouching below him. As AngeLingo explains:

“The photograph’s power structure, and its misuse, is further accentuated with the apparent disparate physical appearance, as the peacekeeper is secured in a color-focused monotone uniform, and the civilians are divergently draped in multi-colored “native” cloths. In this rainbow of fabrics, one man stands frozen in front of the others, cradling a blanket wrapped baby in his arms. The soldier and man appear to be defiantly staring at each other, a showdown that indicates the conflict between the two individuals and the political and social concepts they represent. The positioning and specific stance of the civilian leader in relation to the soldier implies a power struggle, as well as negative feelings—perhaps to the extent of outright animosity—between the peacekeeper and crowd.”

Two separate pictures spliced to make a composite picture that was published.
Two separate pictures spliced to make a composite picture that was published.

That is not the worst part. Apparently, the photo was doctored! It was a combination of two photographs (as shown by AngeLingo) to increase impact. As AngeLingo has shown, there was a subjective political statement that contradicted what actually happened. The two separate photos combined together actually showed a positive and helpful event between the soldier and the civilians. What actually happened was that the soldier was telling the civilians to stay down to avoid being shot by Iraqi forces that opened fire. Since at that time the world was so divided on America’s War on Terror, the creation of the composite picture from two spliced photos painted a much different and grim picture.

Photo of what appears to be a Palestinian victim of Jewish police brutality.
Photo of what appears to be a Palestinian victim of Jewish police brutality.
Another example of deceptive photojournalism was published by the New York Times in 2000. Tuvia Grossman, a 20 year old Jewish student at that time, was depicted and identified as a Palestinian victim of Jewish police brutality. But the truth was actually the opposite as explained by Grossman. His father had to send a letter to the New York Times to enlighten them of the truth behind the photograph. Tuvia Grossman and his two friends were actually pulled from a taxi by a Palestinian mob and were brutally beaten and stabbed. The Israeli policeman in the picture was actually protecting them from the mob. The younger Grossman lamented:

“It’s bad enough to be beaten bloody, get stitches up and down my head, and have my leg so severely stabbed that therapy is required to regain use of it. But to be used as a pawn in the media war, as part of the Palestinian propaganda to gain international sympathy, well, that hurts even more.”

It is unfortunate that truth takes a backseat when an agenda is being pushed.

The Inquirer photo that President Duterte referred to, I believe, is no different from the examples given that illustrate media and photojournalism deception. In the case of the Inquirer photo, it was originally published on July 24, 2016 – a day before the President’s first SONA. The article was made to coincide with the SONA and to deliver the Catholic Church’s message of its criticism on the many killings of suspected drug users and pushers that is going on. A thorough look at the article would show that the message suggests that Duterte seems to be the one to blame on all the killings since these tragedies have gone up exponentially since June 30 (the day Duterte took office). Nowhere in their article does it mention that other angles may have been the cause of Michael Siargo’s demise. Was he a victim of drug syndicates (possibly those who ordered the motorcyclist to gun him down) and not the police? Was the killing even related to drugs? No one (except for the killers perhaps) knows for sure at this point. However, the picture has gone viral and has instigated a lot of debate regarding human rights abuses under Duterte. Allegations of human rights abuse has been the top issue going against Duterte even before he became President. The picture published by the Inquirer, I believe, was really meant to get into people’s minds into loathing the President and painting him as a ruthless monster to perhaps start conditioning the minds of people into thrusting an alternative leader depicted as benevolent and saintly. Who knows? Maybe they have another righteous widow in mind?

Pictures, even without manipulation, can be very deceptive as in the case of the Saigon Execution photo. When photojournalism gets used to advance a hidden agenda the people get susceptible to become pawns of the ones with vested interests. In the Inquirer photo’s case, I can understand if the photo was featured for an Opinion-Editorial piece but being featured as News makes me question the motive behind it. Journalistic dishonesty would make people end up being casualties in the end, I believe. I am glad the President called out the Inquirer on this.

(Top photo taken from the Inquirer)

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Post Author: Hector Gamboa

Calling a spade, a spade...

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95 Comments on "On Deceptive Media and Photojournalism"

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piratame
Guest

Wow. This is what I really felt about that strange Inquirer frontpage photo. Inquirer is secretly trying to hurt Duterte. Just read their headlines and opinion columns.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Thanks for reading, piratame! I’ve been getting lots of messages expressing the same sentiment.

jacky33
Member

Benign0, the link to “the younger Grossman lamented” says page not found.
I pictured but only if I can share it to this forum.

Hector Gamboa
Guest
jacky33
Member

Thanks

benign0
Admin

Fixed it! Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂

jacky33
Member

Thanks

Dale
Guest

Spot-on!

The moment I saw that photo, I knew something was up. How it was caught, the setting and all. It was as if they were trying to turn table and frame the suspected drug pusher as the victim.

I am not totally in support of these killings but this photo was very manipulative and one-sided, as you have pointed out.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Thanks, Dale! 🙂

marius
Guest
I more-or-less agree with this. Filipinos are always killing each other on the slightest pretext. There’s no doubt that the police/army are using Duterte’s umbrella to do a bit of target practice on undesirables, but this fades into insignificance when you consider the number of undesirables blowing each other away. Everyday murders are largely uninvestigated and unreported. And that photograph just screams “setup”. Humans are funny, but one of the things they generally don’t do in real life (contrary to what Hollywood says) is hold onto corpses, especially not ones that have died a violent death, and especially not when… Read more »
Hector Gamboa
Guest
Hi marius, Thanks for reading. The problem that I see in the photo was the way it was presented (notice the lighting giving focus on the slain suspect and his partner to maximize the emotional impact) as well as the misrepresentation of the photo to the content of the article. The article was about (the Church) raising alarm over the many killings going on which are being blamed on Duterte. The photo shows a slain suspected drug pusher who was killed by unknown assailants. From my point of view, killings from police operations are the only ones that can perhaps… Read more »
benign0
Admin

Duterte detractors insist that the pre-July surge in homicides can be attributed to the “encouraging” words of a presidential candidate on the verge of ascending the presidency.

That’s an empty argument as well as it merely highlights the weakness in the foundation of the police command that persisted under the Aquino admin and, perhaps in fairness to PNoy, those that preceded his.

This weakness could then be seen to be the underlying cause as to why the police are seemingly easily influenced by political waves rather than adherent to a stable core set of marching orders.

R U BLIND ?
Guest
Yes, it is exactlt that. It is not as weak an argument as you make it out to be either.The guy said he would do it, now it is being done.PERIOD. and you hide behind the ‘PROVE IT’ bullshit as if no one can figure out that NOTHING in the Failippines is ever heard in the media unless it fits the narrative intended and that there in not a single police officer/judge or jury in the entire country that can not be easily corrupted. Hence the ‘NO PROOF’ scenario on everything from GMA’s aquittal (THATS A LAUGH!) to the current… Read more »
Rem zamora
Guest
Sir Johnny saint, whether the crime scene is contaminated or not, and to preserve that is not the job of the photojournalist. That is the job of the policemen. Our job is to report what happened and to show the truth. Mr Raffy Lerma just did that. And was able to capture a beautiful yet gory reality. The fact that a lot were affected and moved by the image means Mr lerma did his job. @Benigno I don’t know about you, but I do know my shit about photography and photojournalism. And we do know that we don’t have control… Read more »
marius
Guest
Hector, my point was that the stats are meaningless in the context of the Philippines’ essentially non-functional judicial system (and associated reporting). Just because something is written down on a report doesn’t make it true. I’m sick of reading official documents that are so transparently false it makes you wonder who’s more stupid: the people who write them or the intended readership that laps it up (I’m referring here mainly to promotional material for, say, PEZA zones, not crime stats). Murder in the Philippines is commonplace. I know several people who have had family members killed, in public places or… Read more »
zaxx
Member
Even the title of the INQ article is misleading. The command refers to murder, not killing in general. Not all killing is unlawful. There’s a difference… n biblical Hebrew, as in English, killing (harag) and murder (ratzah) are two different words with two very different moral connotations, and the commandment uses the Hebrew word ratzah, which means that the proper translation of the commandment from Hebrew into English is, “Thou shalt not murder.” The difference is crucial. Killing is taking a life. Murder is taking a life with no moral justification. Murder is morally wrong, but there is wide moral… Read more »
Hector Gamboa
Guest

Hi zaxx,

Thanks for reading. Yes, I noticed that too.

Grace
Guest

You’re absolutely right. The Hebrew word for the 6th commandment is Ratzach, thus a murderer is called Rotzeach. The word killer is not even in the Hebrew original because killing, e.g. state sanctioned killing, is not imputed to the person who have killed. For example, King David was not called a killer for killing enemies of the Israel.

Grimwald
Member

Nice seeing you again Mr. Gamboa…

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Thanks, Grimwald! 🙂

joe
Guest

i get the point of the article. so can somebody explain where the deception was in the inquirer photo? that’s the part unclear to me.

T
Guest

The inq article title is “Thou Shalt not Kill”.
The photo itself is designed to draw sympathy for the slain and omits the context of the situation. Very similar to the the Loan photograph, it appeals to the hasty generalization fallacy.

T
Guest

Reading the comments section of the inquirer article will give you a notion that most people are skeptical of the photo. They also proceed to accuse the RCC of being hypocrites. It’s a good sign.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Hi T,

Yes, it is a good sign indeed. It shows that yellow media outfits (like the Inquirer) are now having a bit of a harder time fooling everyone. Thanks for reading!

Dick S. O'Rosary
Guest

The woman holding the dead guy just screams “KSP” and “OA”. I don’t buy it one bit. No doubt she’s actually overjoyed he’s dead.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Hi Dick S. O’Rosary,

Not sure about the woman’s joyful sentiment. I actually felt sorry for her when I first looked at the photo. However, I also felt a bit angry at the Inquirer for its presentation in hopes of what I think is an attempt to drum up hatred for the President. Thanks for reading!

Jin
Guest

Sensationalism. For how often journalists over there get offed, stunts like these make it hard to give sympathy to them.

Gunther Benavidez
Guest

I remember Inquirer had an “errata” on PGMA during the time of Cory’s demise.

Off topic:
I would like to point out that I think the The “American Soldier towering” would likely fit a British soldier judging the uniform pattern, helmet and rifle on hand.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Hi Gunther,

Thanks for pointing that out. I stand corrected. I was thinking of America’s War on Terror for that period that is why I must have mistakenly identified the soldier as an American. Thanks for reading!

Dragonfall
Guest

I need to point out that the ‘American’ Soldier in the photo of the Iraq war is actually a British soldier. I can tell from the L-85 rifle he is holding in the photo and from his helmet. US Soldiers use variations of the M16/AR15. Otherwise good article.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Thanks, Dragonfall. You are correct. It is supposed to be a British soldier. My mistake.

Thanks for reading!

zaxx
Member

Here’s Michelangelo Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City for comparison:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet%C3%A0_(Michelangelo)

The choreography director for the INQ picture must have been shouting: “Focus the spotlight a bit higher! Yes PERFECT!”

I wouldn’t be surprised if the lady in the pix runs for public office and WINS.

Or some cash-strapped studio will likely jump on this and make an award-winning film based on the “true story” behind this “touching scene”.

Anything tapping Pinoy Emotionalism always sells.

Dick S. O'Rosary
Guest

Lol, they’ll turn it into an MMK episode. They will likely show that the guy was initially abusive and violent, but then turned to God ad tried to turn his life aroun but got killed lol.

zaxx
Member

Nice! Your hypothetical story may have made some readers’ eyes watery already LOL

Let’s call the episode “I swear l’ll qiut drugs… but one last sniff”

Anonymous
Guest
I cant seem to figure out where is the “deceptive” part on that photo. Stop justifying fanboyism through comparison. The difference in these photos is night and day. I also disagree with Duterte comparing it to Jesus and Mary. The guy may have done something wrong or illegal if you may, but was it worth his life? You judge the man as if you know exactly what he did during his time. To me the photo illustrates the side of the loved ones who were left behind and the result of letting one man decide who lives and not. That’s… Read more »
Y
Guest
As much as there is pity in death, it also should be noted that the article and the picture was stating that the death was due to the police and current war on drugs without any proof that it was a result of those action or projects. I’m not dismissing the tragic reality of the photo, but I do not like how the caption was being used to manipulate others into blaming everything to the current administration. There are more than one group at work here and being dismissive of other possibilities make people lose faith in the ongoing battle… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

The problem with pictures is that the real story is often outside the frame.

ChinoF
Member

I remember writing about the Saigon execution pic here.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

You are correct, Chino! Thanks for reading! 🙂

Anonymous
Guest
Reading all your comments tells me that you are just following a single thread. Stop looking at Duterte as if he is the almighty. He is not! In most cases he is wrong. He is nothing but the image he carries and the hoard of supporters that blindly supports him. I am not against his war against drugs, and I agree with his platforms, but please without the killings. You cannot solve crime with another crime. The guy who took this picture is a photographer NOT a photojournalist! His job is to capture a “decent” picture that is worth the… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
Hector, Nowhere in their article does it mention that other angles may have been the cause of Michael Siargo’s demise. Was he a victim of drug syndicates (possibly those who ordered the motorcyclist to gun him down) and not the police? Was the killing even related to drugs? No one (except for the killers perhaps) knows for sure at this point. However, the picture has gone viral and has instigated a lot of debate regarding human rights abuses under Duterte. Allegations of human rights abuse has been the top issue going against Duterte even before he became President. The picture… Read more »
TheVoiceofReason
Guest

Well said

Johnny Saint
Guest
Did General Nguyen Loan’s action violate the Geneva Conventions for treatment of prisoners of war? He executed Van Lem after he had stumbled upon the bodies of his men — including their families — who were killed by the Viet Cong. Van Lem was caught red-handed indiscriminately killing people. In this context, the summary execution of partisans is allowed under the Geneva Convention. According to Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention (1949), irregular forces are entitled to prisoner of war status provided that they are commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable… Read more »
T
Guest

Nice research. I see the point of your earlier post.

zaxx
Member

How about this photo of the 5 presidents standing together that came out today? You don’t need to be a telepath to know what PNoy’s body language is suggesting.

http://m.philstar.com/headlines/show/8774ff471f4e7ee1560a4724fb23c16d?t=t8kgnceji69u19qdnups3nlp03

Archie
Guest

INQUIRER is for elite!!!

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Thanks for reading, Archie!

I consider the Inquirer, ABS-CBN, and Rappler to be yellow-leaning.

andrew
Guest

Social media is a powerful tool Miriam said and i agree. these jounalist need to use this tool responsibly. our media is a copy of the american democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville is right when he describe about this in his book – too much irrelevant information is distributed to the public. haven’t finished it yet though as i need to rest my eyes from reading as per Ideal Vision folks.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Hi andrew,

Yes and the danger is that sometimes people are caught up and get carried away with those irrelevant information. Thanks for reading!

Charles
Guest

There is no illusion in this picture vs. it’s reality. It clearly states in media outlets who is in the picture, what happened, where, and why. This is a poorly constructed article that makes little sense. Dick.

T
Guest

you gotta love these kinds of reasoning.

Laguardia
Guest

…why?

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