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March 30, 2006

Internet sleuthing

I am a firm believer in cooperative learning. The combined efforts of many people can produce results that would be impossible for a single person. And the internet is a wonderful mechanism for enabling collective action.

What follows is a modern-day detective story that illustrates what is possible when the collective strength of people working together, sharing information and ideas, and building on each others' ideas, combined with the speed of communication and resources available on the internet.

Howard Kaloogian is a Republican candidate in San Diego's special congressional election to replace disgraced Republican Duke Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to bribery, resigned his seat, and is now in jail. In his campaign, Kaloogian tried to propagate the White House meme that things are just peachy in Iraq and that the media is deliberately sabotaging the war effort, painting a dark picture by reporting only the daily bombings, beheadings, kidnappings, extortions, etc.

To bolster his claim and to counteract this alleged deliberate negativity, he posted on his website on March 17 a photo (scroll down) that he said he took on his recent trip to Baghdad showing a peaceful street intersection with people strolling around casually in what seems to be a commercial area. [UPDATE: Kaloogian has removed this photo from the website. But nothing really ever disappears on the internet and you can see the photo here.]

The caption to the photo said: "Downtown Baghdad 
We took this photo of dowtown [sic] Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

Before reading further, I'd like you to take a look at this picture and see if you notice anything about it.

Ok, done? Now read on. . .

At about 4:30pm (EDT) on March 28th, an alert observer noticed something a little strange about the picture and raised suspicions as to its authenticity. The main thing that was puzzling was that none of the street and shop signs had Arabic lettering on them. Also, the people were dressed in ways not consistent with the increasingly restrictive cleric-dominated Iraqi society. The poster mentioned these oddities on the blog site.

Once that bugle blew, the hunt was on, with many people looking over the photo carefully for clues, finding more and more discrepancies, and using their diverse knowledge to find answers. Some suggested, after blowing up the photo and examining carefully some of the lettering in the signs and the words and products advertised, that the location depicted was actually in Turkey, not Iraq.

At about 7:00pm on that same day, an Operation Desert Storm vet, who had been alerted to the strange photo and who had been to Iraq, met Kaloogian and told him that the photo did not look at all like the Baghdad he knew. Kaloogian was directly asked for an explanation and replied that they had a lot of pictures with Arabic script in them but that they picked one with no Arabic in it so that the location of the photo could not be identified (which seems an unnecessary precaution if things are going so swimmingly in Iraq).

But soon after, another investigator found a photo online (taken by a commercial photographer) that showed the very same intersection, which was identified as being in Bakirkoy, a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey. Josh Marshall compares the two photos and finds a convincing four point match.

The amazing thing was that this final denouement occurred at about noon on the 29th, which meant that the fake was convincingly exposed within twenty-four hours of the initial suspicion being raised, a remarkable feat of collaborative journalism, made possible by the networking capability of the internet.

Later that same day, when he was faced with the overwhelming evidence that the photo on his website was a lie, Kaloogian did the honorable thing: he promptly blamed a low-level staffer for the embarassment.

Fortunately for Kaloogian, Jesus' General has come to his rescue and offers him a much better photo poster for him to use in his campaign, one that shows Baghdad looking even more peaceful.

[UPDATE: Scrambling to recover, Kaloogian has replaced his original photo of "peaceful Baghdad" with another one that looks like an aerial shot of distant buildings where you cannot even see any people!

Other investigators suggests that it looks like this new photo was taken from the rooftop of the Rashid Hotel within the heavily fortified Green Zone, and that one of the buildings on that photo (a police station) had been bombed even before Kaloogian's visit about nice months ago.

Kaloogian should give up his laughable efforts to show how peaceful Iraq is. If this is the best that he can do, then things are even worse than I thought.]

POST SCRIPT: Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers is one of the greatest comic actors I have seen. His films are part of the select few that I watch more than once. Hence it was sad to learn that as a person, he was an awful man, cruel to his wives and children and friends and co-workers.

The film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers captures the complexity and sadness behind the life of one of the funniest actors of all time.

Peter Sellers himself felt that he had no character, no personality, other than the ones he adopted for his roles. He once said "If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am." And thus he was able to blend, chameleon-like, into the many characters he played on screen.

Geoffrey Rush gives an amazing performance in the title role. I had doubts about seeing any actor playing Peter Seller, especially in his signature role of Inspector Clousseau. How could anyone capture that idiotic solemnity and self-importance? But right from the opening scene, Rush dispelled my concerns. Rush was Peter Sellers

The scene that best captures this is on the plane when Sellers is on his way to Italy to work on the first Pink Panther film. He goes into the bathroom as Peter Sellers and comes out dressed as Inspector Clousseau and starts arguing, in character, with the flight attendant. Rush is channeling priceless, vintage Sellers.

But the film is not a comedy, although it has funny bits. It is a portrayal of a hugely gifted yet tragically flawed man.

Trackbacks

Trackback URL for this entry is: http://blog.case.edu/singham/mt-tb.cgi/6976 On writing-1: Plagiarism at the Washington Post
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Tracked: April 3, 2006 08:12 AM

Comments

Unfortunately, the picture in question has been removed...

Posted by on March 30, 2006 08:59 AM

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), the picture in question has been removed from the site, so Google's cache just shows a broken-image placeholder...

Posted by Erin on March 30, 2006 09:03 AM

Someone posted the mistaken picture to flickr.

Posted by Brian Gray on March 30, 2006 09:33 AM

I updated the entry to give another location to see the photo. Nothing really ever disappears on the internet!

And Brian's link gives a blown up version.

Posted by Mano Singham on March 30, 2006 10:39 AM

I'm shocked, frankly, that people didn't notice the writing earlier than the 28th! That was the first thing I noticed in looking at the picture, followed by the fact that the people were not dressed at all appropriately to the region.

I remember seeing The Life and Death of Peter Sellers when it was first playing on HBO and being absolutely stunned by how well Rush did as Peter Sellers. Like you, I had my doubts, but he completely blew me away. The plane scene was absolutely priceless. Another scene that stuck with me was the one where he's filming Dr. Strangelove and his mother comes to visit over lunch. It was completely and utterly bizarre.

Posted by Nicole Sharp on March 30, 2006 11:33 AM

Regarding why people did not notice the funny business with the photo until the 28th, I think that most people are not really looking carefully. They trust that the photo shows what it claims to show. People are generally trusting, unless they have reasons to think otherwise. But once you become suspicious, then you begin to notice all kinds of things.

If I had not alerted you to look closely at the picture, would you have noticed the discrepancies if you had just been scanning his website? I am not sure that I would have noticed, frankly.

Posted by Mano Singham on March 30, 2006 02:19 PM

Obviously I can't be certain that I would have noticed it in just scanning his site, but I tend to think that I would be more likely to notice it than the average American surfing that site, if for no other reason than I've been to the Arabic world.

Posted by Nicole Sharp on March 31, 2006 03:16 PM

Just popped over from Digby. Loved your I.F. Stone quote. Also looking at your blog looks like we have a lot of things in common. I'll be back to visit.

Here is another angle to that Kaloogian story. Turkey: Kaloogian is founder and co-chair of Move American Forward. Ironically just yesterday, Melanie Morgan, the other co-chair of the group, accused the LA Times of doctoring photos of this weekend's protest in LA.

(See my letter to the LA Times below). This is especially serious because the LA Times fired a photographer in 2003 for doctoring a photo from the Iraq war. Morgan should know about what it means to doctor or mislead with a photo because she has a background as a broadcast journalist.

So one of the co-chairs of Move America Forward puts up a misleading photo while the other accuses the LA Times of doctoring photos from an event.

I haven't heard from the LA Times or their photographers yet. No doubt Ms. Morgan will be hearing from them soon.

Sincerely,
Spocko

P.S. If you would like to hear the audio clips of Ms. Morgan suggesting they use Nets on the protestors to round them up and deport them, let me know.
Here is her quote:
"I couldn't help but thinking to myself as I was watching this from the helicopter eye view of the crowd that wouldn't it something if we could just drop a net down and help some of these folks on to buses and deport them across the border. Now 50,000 here 100,000 there, 500,000 there your talking real immigration reform aren't cha?" Melanie Morgan KSFO 560AM 3/28/2006

Sincerely,
SB

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: SB
Date: Mar 29, 2006 5:55 AM
Subject: Accusation: "The LA Times actually doctored photographs." Melanie Morgan of KSFO radio
To: douglas.frantz@latimes.com, bob.chamberlin@latimes.com, gina.ferazzi@latimes.com


Douglas Frantz, Managing Editor
Bob Chamberlin, staff photographer
Gina Ferazzi, staff photographer
Los Angeles Times

Dear Mr. Frantz, Mr. Chamberlin and Ms. Ferazzi:

On March 28th Melanie Morgan of KSFO radio in San Francisco accused the LA Times of doctoring photos from the protest this last weekend to show only America flags in the crowd. Her co-host, Lee Rogers, agreed with her.

Specifically Morgan said, "The LA Times actually doctored photographs to make it look as if they were ALL American flags and there were NO Mexican flags."

Lee Rogers: "What? A major liberal newspaper would falsify the news?"

Melanie Morgan: "Yes."

Lee Rogers: "Why that's unprecedented, isn't it."

Melanie Morgan: And ESPECIALLY the Los Angeles Times."

Here is the audio clip of the exchange: ( Link. Windows audio clip. 43 seconds)

The journalistic integrity of your paper has been questioned as well as your personal photojournalism ethics. Now I suppose you can say, "it was just a slip of the tongue and she simply 'misspoke'. Besides, they are just a couple of talk radio hosts joking." But Ms. Morgan spoke with confidence that the photos were doctored, so perhaps she has proof she can provide you with. As a former ABC-TV researcher, television reporter and anchor I'm sure Ms. Morgan clearly knows the meaning of the word doctored. If she has deliberately and reckless accused you of doctoring photos with no proof, perhaps she owes you an apology.

In 2003 the Los Angeles Times fired its own photographer, Brian Walski, for doctoring a photo, so clearly you take this issue seriously. I hope you take these allegations seriously as well.

KSFO's business line is (415) 398-5600, but the emails for Melanie Morgan and her co-host Lee Rogers are: melaniemorgan @ abc-sf.com and leerodgers @ abc-sf.com. KSFO is currently owned by ABC Radio, a Disney company which I believe has offices in Southern California.

If you want to hear even more of the clip to get the total context I will be happy to provide it.
Sincerely,
SB
My blog: www.spockosbrain.com

cc.

Los Angeles Times
Shelby Grad, City Desk
Teresa Watanabe, Staff Writer
Hector Becerra, Staff Writer
David Garcia Director, Media Relations

Associated Press
Ann Johansson, photographer

ABC Radio
John Hare, President

Columbia Journalism School
Prof. Sreenath Sreenivasan
Dean of Students

Penn State University
Dr. Russell Frank,
Professor News Media Ethics

Media Matters
Anna Dimond
------------------------
So one of the co-founders of Move America Forward has no problem putting up a misleading photo while the other accuses the LA Times of doctoring photos from an event.

Posted by spocko on March 31, 2006 04:47 PM

thank you very much for your help. You guys 74854 rock, thanks again.

Posted by Tuki Medaber on October 4, 2006 09:15 PM