Making Stuff Up

July 23, 2009

This week, the Baptist Messenger (the state Baptist newspaper in Oklahoma) came under fire for photoshopping an image in a news story. For a story about a resolution being promoted by some political and religious leaders, they placed the text on official state letterhead with the signatures of the governor and secretary of state. However, neither individual has signed onto the resolution. You can see the image here. They have since apologized to the governor. They also put a statement on their website apologizing for the "misleading" image and calling it "an oversight and error." Really? Is that all? They make it sound like they misspelled someone's name or messed up a quotation. But this was the active creation of a false image. This seems like something much more serious than just "an oversight." This is a complete breakdown of journalistic ethics.

However, it seems appropriate that they made up this image considering the resolution they were promoting. The resolution seeks to promote the Christian heritage of America and tries to get an official state endorsement of Christianity. The problem, however, is they made stuff up in the resolution. There are several quotations attributed to early American leaders that cannot be substantiated, which means no one can prove they are actually the words of the person they are attributed to. Leaders who have words put in their mouths include James Madison, Patrick Henry, and Noah Webster. Even the guy who helped popularized these sayings--David Barton--has admitted that they cannot be proven to be accurate. Apparently, promoting our Christian heritage does not include being people of the Truth. So, it actually seems quite consistent that the Baptist Messenger decided to make up an image to promote a resolution that makes up quotations.

3 comments

  1. After looking at it, it does just look like a (granted, REALLY problematic) mistake. It isn't so much a photoshopped image as using the proclamation letterhead as the background for a textbox. Still calls for correction and closer watching in the future, but I don't think it was a malicious "let's attach the governor's name" as it was a "well, this background might give the page some good art."

    Again, not an excuse -- we media types need to be constantly aware of (and responsible for) what we are communicating, even unintentionally... but, I can get over a dumb mistake easier than I can an intentionality.

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  2. It's a "mistake" in the same way that sleeping with your neighbor's wife is a "mistatke." When someone actively goes out of their way to find copies of the signatures and seals and photoshops thems into the picture and the runs them by the editors before printing them in a Baptist magazine and sending them out all over the state and then publishing the forgery on the world wide web... well, that's an obviously deliberate "mistake."

    NewsOK.com said in their article on this fiasco, “The Baptist newspaper printed Kern’s proclamation and attached part of an old proclamation signed by Henry, making it look like the Democratic governor endorses the language in the document.” That's kind of hard to do accidentally.

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  3. Like I said -- it is certainly something the paper needs to be responsible for... I'm just saying that after working for publications and seeing what deadline days look like, I can understand how it could have happened without malicious intent. NOT saying it excuses anything. I just don't happen to think this was an example of the press trying to trick people -- I think it was a bad, not-thought-through choice.

    And, of course, I wasn't there -- I could be wrong.

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