TCS Daily

FX May Soon Be Short for Faux

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - August 30, 2006 12:00 AM

I've written columns on news fakery the past two weeks. In response to last week's column, where I talked about video fakery, reader Jim May emails:

"In a recent TCS Daily column, you wrote the following:

"'So far, video-photoshopping isn't as common as fakery with still photos, but as the tools for that improve, we'll see that, too.'

"I am a visual FX artist working in Hollywood (recent credits include 'Serenity', NBC's 'Surface' and as of tonight, 'Beerfest'). I make fake images, moving AND still, for a living. I have the tools required to do precisely this sort of thing installed right here on my hard drive now. Your prediction is essentially correct, at least as regards political dirty tricks; beyond that, such fakery has been going on for a decade or more, now."

He's right, and the accumulation of episodes of fakery in recent weeks, both sophisticated and crude, leads me to believe that we'll see faked video of professional quality becoming a commonplace political item in the pretty near future.

And this poses a significant problem. In a democratic polity -- or even one that's driven by things like "world opinion" -- faked news poses a real threat to decent decision-making. Worse yet, the likely outcome of widespread fakery will be a tendency on the part of people to simply dismiss news that they don't want to hear. (And we already see enough of that phenomenon as it is).

I wish there were a technical solution to this problem, but that's probably pretty far away. May sent me a link to the Columbia University TrustFoto project, which is aimed at detecting fake still images. So far, it's not very good -- I gave it an obvious fake and got a rather inconclusive response. It's a great idea, and the technology will no doubt improve, but will it ever be good enough to reliably distinguish between genuine and phony images? Not anytime soon, anyway. And identifying phony video is probably even harder.

Once again, as I've said in previous columns, it boils down to whom you can trust. And although it seems that Big Media outfits, which want to make money and be around for the long term, would have a sufficient investment in their credibility not to fake news themselves, or to pass along fake news except in extraordinary circumstances, the evidence of recent weeks is that journalism is rife with fakery, and that we're seeing more of it now mostly because it's easier to spot now that lots of people can examine the evidence and compare notes.

And maybe there's a lesson there. A recent kerfuffle over allegedly faked photos of Congresswoman Jean Schmidt finishing a marathon turned out to be bogus: The picture in question was genuine, as was clear after analysis. But blogger Matthias Shapiro wasn't impressed with all the photo evaluation, emailing:

"It turns out Rep. Schmidt has run dozens of marathons and posted some very impressive times. Given this context, why would she fake a photograph of her finishing a marathon when she probably has hundreds of authentic photos of her finishing other marathons? I suspect that this is much ado about nothing and will end up being something of an embarrassment to those involved... an embarrassment that could have been avoided if the critics had done that 20 minutes of research and judged the photograph in the wider context of Rep. Schmidt's biography. (Incidentally, it is this very examination of context that helped to discredit many of the fauxtographs shot by the friends of Hezbollah.)"

Context is key. And one of the lessons of these various affairs is that neither the photo, nor the purveyor of the photo, should be given unquestioned authority. Instead, we have to think for ourselves, and make up our own minds. Because it turns out that we can't trust, well, much of anyone.

You can hear me discuss these issues further with bloggers Charles Johnson and Dean Barnett on this TCS Daily podcast. And yes, that's really us -- not faked voices. Trust me.

Glenn Reynolds is a TCS Daily contributing editor.



a big so what?
Accurate article but surely a big so what, isn't it? We already know at all sides in wartime make use of whatever media of the day for their own propaganda. WW1 already, like the Brits saying the 'huns' were eating babies. WW11, both sides too of course. Nowadays the technology is better re fotoshop etc. But it's like deja vu all over again. It depends on a naive public believing any kinda crap they see in public media.

Where is Max and Network 23 when you need them?

Re: Maxheadroom
Now you are showing your age - and no end of Photoshoppery can cover that up.....

death penalty for fake news reporting
and if they are citizens of another country, send some mugs to do the job on the sly.

As the future of mankind may very well be wrapped up in this issue, nothing is off the table.

Now let the leftist mouth foam fly.

Bet I can get bobjones & the rest of the Looser Left to do backflips and bark over this post.

photoshop & die I say.

Here's what...
The problem is that this is no longer just going on during times of war. The bias, slanting, alterings, and downright lying have been going on for decades.

It comes from journalists believing they have the right to "guide" society with "proper" facts.

I loved that show
When I was a kid! Mat Frewer didn't look near as creepy as he does now. (He's on Eureka! on Sci-Fi now)

Yes, it is all ratings!

Media deception is nothing new.
I was reading the biography of Benjamin Franklin and it seems he used wrote false and slanderous articles against his rivals, even after they were dead.

"Madison Avenue" advertisers have been lying to the public for over a century now. They have sold the population on everything from Tide detergent, to processed foods, to gas guzzling SUVs.

Did these constitute lies? Yes. Do they represent propaganda in favor of a particular socio-political scheme? Absolutely

And, of course, all governments are engaged in "image building" by press releases, both abroad, and in the country itself. The images built at home are often not the same as the image the country projects abroad.

So what's new here? The only thing I see new here is that this article is directed against Hezbollah. So this article itself is anti-Hezbollah, if not anti-Islam propaganda.

Did anyone else here detect that?

'Objective' deception
Many once trusted the photos and video portrayed as news by major news organizations.

And now, many won't believe airplanes flew into the WTC five years ago. Won't believe eye witnesses and video. (Maybe they are right?)

Clintonian post
Puffery and material deception are different. Advertising a product's good points is not comparable to faking photos and staging fake news events. If a gov. explains it's actions/policies (propaganda) that is one thing, if Reuters, a corporation, lies to flak for a bandit army (Hezbollah) that is a client of a gov. that is another thing altogether.

You remind me of the great old Saturday Night Live skit in which Moses brings the Law down from the mountain and shows it to the Israelites. Bill Clinton is in the crowd and convinces the crowd that the words carved in stone don't really mean what they say and adultery might really be kosher.

My take is ...
If you want to know what is going on, you need to get involved. You need to actively seek information through several sources, both domestic and international. Al Jezzara is equally as valid as the Jerusalem Post, as is Le Monde, as is CNN.

People here are not being responsible citizens. Democracy and freedom demand that we pay more attention. We are not paying attention to what is going on in the world. We sit in front of TV and assume we are being given the truth.

But we know that we are not. So what do we do? We shrug our shoulders and complain about the service instead of actively seeking the truth.

People across the entire planet are much more politically a socially aware than your average naive American. That is being used to their advantage. We are played for the fool. We are sold crappy items. We are told that everything will be OK if we must buy more senseless stuff. We have been pandered into a materialistic consumer society that has been shielded from the truth of the world.

There are many things that distinguish Americans. Some are good and some are bad. Our innocent naivety is admired across the planet. On the other hand, our ignorance in terms of international affairs is frightening to free-thinking cultures. We are dangerous to the security of the planet. That is what will come back to bite us.

"Advertising a product's good points is not comparable to faking photos and staging fake news events
Advertisers fake photos all the time. Just look at the supermarket ads you get stuffed in your mailbox.

They are selling meat, veggies, whatever. They are selling consumerism, whatever.

It is a socio-political scheme they are selling you through false advertising comprised of retouched photographs.

There is no difference between that and the propaganda that Israel and Hezbollah are putting out.

And until you see that, you will not be able to detect the trees on account of the forest.

Good luck.

I doubt anyone who isn't an anti-semite saw what you see.
There's a big difference between image building, which is making sure that the positive gets lots of coverage, and faking photographs, which is what the media has been caught doing, many times, in the last few months.

al Jazeera has been caught transmitting propaganda, Jerusalem Post has not.
Unless your one of those leftists who defines propaganda as anything you don't want to hear.

This is insane
spritzing a hamburger to make it look juicer is the moral equivalent of faking an missile strike on an ambulance?

If you can find any "propaganda" being put out by Israel, please post it. Hezbollah's fakery has been widely discussed and proven.

False Advertising
Then the BBC or any other news agency, which one presumes to be in business to provide accurate, timely and reliable information, have been lying to us all along by not providing what they advertise.

Innocent naivety
If it means succumbing to the moral relativism of Europe, and all of its consequences, I will keep my naive ideas of Liberty.

So What? This is what:
Yes Dietmar, those examples you cite are accurate. The primary difference here is that during World War I (The London Daily Telegraph), World War II (Lord Haw Haw, Tokyo Rose, and even into the Korean Conflict and Vietnam, each side knew they were listening to their opponents' propaganda.

What we've got here, and what Prof. Reynolds has been writing about lately, is the unimpeachable fact that legacy media sources who would like their consumers to trust that they're reporting the news objectively are engaging in lopsidedly one-sided propagandizing with respect to this and other foreign policy issues and passing it off as news. Whether they're doing so unintentionally (which should lead one to wonder what those "multiple layers of editorial scrutiny" actually do) or in a conscious effort to drive public opinion and policy toward their own editorial perspective (which is arguably a far worse situation) is largely pointless.

The brand is damaged, that's without question; whether or not beyond repair is another issue altogether. With respect to the issue in hand, not only have most of the legacy media been very poor at policing themselves, they've been circling the wagons, dissembling, and have been dismissive of the largely nonprofessional bloggers and 'net correspondents who've uncovered their misfeasance. If, for example, an automobile manufacturer or a financial services organization were to treat their customers in such a cavalier fashion, they'd be castigated -- and properly so -- in that very press, and indeed have been.

As James Lileks so succinctly put it, "People know stuff." What the monolithic press either likes to ignore or fails to understand is that a tarnished reputation is only Google cache away; their failure in either case is to their own cost, and their balance sheets prove it.

You had better lookl up the definition of propaganda
Anyone who thinks that state governments are not in the business of image building is naive. If you don't "get" that, then the conversation is stuck in the cellar.

The ideas of liberty are not unique to the USA
Moreover, there are other takes on liberty, such as a free press, that we don't have in the USA.

The US (and UK) are the premere propaganda artists. Our governments are so cleaver that intellegent people like you don't even see it.

Why don't you try reading what I wrote for once.
I quite explicitly acknowledged that govts engage in image building.

Unlike you, I don't consider that to be inherently evil.
It's only evil when you do it using lies.

ah yes, were back to the Zionist owned media mantra
Just because people believe things that you are unwilling to believe, is not proof that they have been taken in by lies.

The positive side of faked photos
Propaganda, like bias, ceases to be effective once it has been identifed and labeled.
It's also proof that the facts on the ground go against the conventional narrative put forth by Hezbollah and their apologists in the West. Why else would one have to fake something? It'd be sad if it weren't so pernicious.

Where is the free press?

Technological Solutions
Technology exists that can pretty definitively tell whether a photograph or video has been altered. The pixel data can be hashed to provide a numerical code that can be used to ensure that any changes are readily apparent. Rehashing a copy of the photo will bring up a code that can be compared to the original. Any changes in the photo will prevent a code match. I'm not sure if any cameras have such technology built in, but it should be demanded by legitimate journalists, and any photo that has not been verfied would then be viewed with skepticism.


That's great, but...
you're getting the hash from the same person giving you the photo.

There are other techniques that are pretty effective. They generally rely on looking for things that aren't apparent to the human eye such as color patterns, blending (like when you fudge the background to make two different colors look like they flow), inspecting shadows, lighting effects, color depth, pixel detail.

This field is actually coming along pretty quickly and I would expect to see some effective tools widely available.

The more things change the more they stay the same
I recall reading that the video of Douglas MacArthur's famous return to the Philippines was actually a filming of a staged reenactment. I'm less confident, but I seem to recall that the photo of the raising of the flag on Suribachi was similarly taken of a reenactment.

If perfect technology is ever devised to catch faked videos it will still not solve the problem of faked scenarios such as was recently done by Reuters in Lebanon.

Even honest news organizations (those unlike Reuters, CNN and CBS, for instance) are vulnerable to staged events, especially those designed to conform to their innate biases.

We just have to live with it and remember to believe none of what we hear and only half of what we see.

Wow - "We are dangerous to the security of the planet."
And here I thought we were just aw shucks folks who just want to be left alone by durn furriners.

Now it turns out that Stephen informs me that "People across the entire planet are much more politically a socially aware than your average naive American."

I'm headed out to the local old age homes to find and punch out my old civics teacher. I never liked her anyway, and now it turns out that she done educated me wrong.

an excellent post
The availability of the net as an instant source and permanent record of background on anyone or any organization will help even as it opens up a whole new realm to potential fraud and conspiracy mongering.

But people still trusted Tricky **** and Bill Clinton long after their lies were proven, and many no doubt still trust Dan Rather and Reuters.

And loose info leading to conspiracy theories is nothing new either since the human grapevine is just like the net for many, if not most, people. I'm reminded of my dad's old buddy who went to his grave certain that the moon missions were an elaborate fake done in New Mexico.

the definition of insanity
Mark - you can back up a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink from that end.

What is insane is trying again and again and again (as I also have from time to time) to make folks like Stephen see logic or recognize reality.

The photo of McArthur's return was never passed off as him arriving while bullets were flying.

The Suribachi photo was not a re-inactment. The first flag raised was too small to be seen from the entire island, so the general in charge ordered a new flag to be raised. This second flag raising was the one photographed. When the second flag was raised, bullets were still flying, even on top of Suribachi.

Judging from your comment...
"conventional narrative put forth by Hezbollah and their apologists in the West"

You have already made up your mind.

It really doesn't matter to you if the pictures are real or not, does it?

Your bias certainly shows
You've lost the argument when you have to resort to name calling

In this instance, you've lost.

They all use lies for image building
Lies of omission, lies of false interpretations, lies of political bias.

What do you mean?
There are many newspapers in France, Italy, England, and Germany that are much more free press than any I have found here in the USA.

From a EU perspective, please note that the Star and the National Enquirer are set out side by side with The Wall Street ad and USA Today.

Case in point
Thanks for proving me right.

You have lost the argument
when you have to resort to insults in attempts to win, you've lost.

You should back off before name calling. It really makes you look bad.

Good point.

After reading the first paragraph
I find it more useful to read opinion pieces about a story.
At least I know the bias and many times those writers have done more legwork than the 'wire' piece writer.

That's my virtual ***** slap to you, stephen.

"And until you see that, you will not be able to detect the trees on account of the forest".

"Good luck".

Those remarks of yours above were insulting, Bubba. Your patronizing, know-it-all tone cries out for a slap.

Since when is a statement regarding the importance of knowledge an insult?
If you took it as an insult, then you lost. It was not an insult nor was it intended to be. It was a statement of the importance of understanding the situation.

And I'm not Bubba (of the old MSNBC blog, if that is what you were implying)

Bubba et Stephen ne sont pas le meme chose!

Didn't the Israeli press report ambulances being used to transport contraband?
I thought they (Israel) documented reasons for their attacks.

I would use the word "entertaining" over "useful".
I stopped reading op-eds. They have great entertainment value. But in the end analysis, they are only opinions. Everyone has one.

I now enjoy riding my bicycle instead of reading the Sunday morning op-ed section. It's healthier too.

You lost
Again with the "then you lost", garbage. This forum should be an exchange of thoughts where we can learn from each other. It's not a competition. If it were, who would be the judge? Certainly not you.

And then there is this.... From the Boston Globe, not a reliable source (they passed off a still photo from a porn movie as as example of US soldiers abusing SW Asian prisoners - also the Globe is owned by the NY Tines Corp.) but their usual biases lie in the other direction. School textbook companies need to meet various diversity qutoas, so they fake the pics.

I agree with you and that is why insults mean people have lost
Insulting someone is not, as you put it, exchanging thoughts in order to learn from each other.

So when people resort to insults, they have lost the argument.

Thankyou for reiterating and validating that point for me.

you have to remember this about stephen
his hatred of Americans is so intense, that he finds it impossible to believe anything good about them.

He quoted me a survey he read once. The question was, do you think it's possible that God played a role in evolution.
15% answered no.
From this stephen concludes that 85% of Americans are creationists.

stephen only believes it's name calling, when his feelings are hurt
He still claims that roy, eric, bobjones, etc, never resort to insults.

it's more likely that you are seeing something that doesn't exist.
stephen reminds me of the story of the "Emperors new clothes".

Only really, really smart people, like him and those who agree with him. Can detect the propaganda coming from the US and UK.

such actions have been documented
Regardless, if you examine the pictures of the ambulances, it is very obvious that the Israeli's weren't the cause of the damage.

I've detailed why elsewhere.

These were quite obviously two amulances pulled from a junkyard and paraded before the eager cameras of the usefull idiots.

since when is calling an anti-semite, an anti-semite, an insult?
Your language and your positions make it clear what you are.

TCS Daily Archives