Nancy Pelosi should take down altered photo of Democratic women in the House

From Pelosi defends altered photo of Democratic women in The Washington Post:

The office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) digitally added several female members to a photograph intended to include all of the women in the House Democratic Caucus. […]

When asked about the doctored photo, which was posted on Pelosi’s Facebook and Flickr pages, the Democratic leader defended the decision.

“It’s an accurate historical record of who the Democratic women of Congress are. It also is an accurate record that it was freezing cold and our members had been waiting a long time for everyone to arrive and that they had to get back into the building to greet constituents, family members, to get ready to go to the floor,” she said.

I’m a little shocked that Pelosi has left the photo on her Facebook page, although I’m not shocked that the Photoshop job was done in the first place.

Politicians’ staffs alter photos. That’s nothing new.

The most glaring historical examples of manipulation of photos by politicians have been done in the interest of exclusion — Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Castro have all had people erased from official photos.

There are lots of examples of politicians being removed by news organizations too. An ultra-orthodox Israeli newspaper even had female cabinet members removed. An Orthodox paper in New York even removed Hillary Clinton from the iconic White House photo of the situation room during the Bin Laden raid.

Back in 2004, the Bush campaign digitally altered a photo to add more soldiers at a rally listening to the President.

But the Bush campaign pulled the ad and apologized when the manipulation came to light.

Still, political campaigns alter images all the time — just like advertisers do.

So keep that in mind if you’re already steaming mad about Pelosi’s staff’s pasting of four female members of Congress into this photo, which I’ve embedded from the Minority Leader’s Facebook page:

Can’t tell which four have been added?

Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 8.47.17 PM

I will say they did a pretty good job of pasting those four figures in the back — even if the extra four look a little tall, huh?

And there were other alterations too, as noted below.

Even if the primary interest is PR, political leaders creating images for the historical record should follow the same ethical guidelines that news publishers do (or are supposed to). And that means no deception like this — no adding or deleting of people, no fundamental changes to the images in ways that compromise their integrity.

From the National Press Photographers Association:

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) joined with the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) in a statement protesting the manipulation of an official photograph made available for distribution by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office.

The issue of the use of government hand out photos is something that press groups have been concerned with for sometime. The acknowledgment by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office that four Members of the House who arrived too late to be photographed in a group shot were “later photo-shopped in” stands as exhibit A in the dangers of using these photos. Those dangers are further exacerbated at a time when news organizations are cutting staff and relying more on unvetted user generated content while the government and other organizations are seeking to exercise more control over access and their images.

A further review of the photo shows that not only were the four missing Congresswomen added but that the image was also manipulated to show other Congresswomen who were blocked in the original photo as well as redoing the hair of another. Rather than being a true and “accurate historical record” as the House Minority Leader stated in her defense of the use of the photo, the hand-out represents an example of the dangers in using a manipulated official photograph, thus undermining the public’s trust in visual images.

From a separate press release, with emphasis added:

NPPA President Sean D. Elliot said, “The NPPA, in keeping with our long-standing position on the digital manipulation of photographs, decries the release of a composite photo by the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Although journalistic ethical standards may not apply to public relations photographs, the NPPA deplores any practice that would continue to degrade the public’s perception of the credibility of photographs, especially those made as an official public record. We also urge that news organizations decline to use, distribute or publish the doctored images, unless reporting on the fact of the manipulation itself.”

I have a feeling this controversy is going to have some legs, so maybe other members of the Democratic caucus will get to Pelosi if she doesn’t understand the issue herself.