Editor’s Note

November 4, 2009

 

In the evening of Tuesday 1st April 2003, the Los Angeles Times posted an editor’s note on its website, notifying readers about the violation of the newspaper’s photography ethics policy. The editors outlined the incident, its investigation, the outcome (Walski’s dismissal) and posted the picture alongside its two originals, with a description of the alteration.

The following day (Wednesday), both the L.A. Times and the Hartford Courant published the three pictures and the editor’s note in their pages. The Tribune published a correction on Thursday.

 

Hartford Courant correction

The Hartford Courant’s correction (2 April 2003; p. 5)

 

The Los Angeles Times Editor’s Note is available from the following website:

http://www.sree.net/teaching/lateditors.html

 

Who made the decision to dismiss Brian Walski? Was it right of them to do so? Is this a situation of ‘political correctness’? What is the difference between law and ethics? Was the purpose of the Editor’s Note to do justice or to make the newspaper look good?

 

 

 

Hartford Courant (2003). Editor’s Note: Altered Photograph, 2 April, p. 5. [online] Available from: <http://www.poynter.org/resource/28082/HartfordCourantcorrection.pdf> [Accessed on 30 October 2009]

 

Editor’s Note (1 April 2003). Los Angeles Times [online] Available from: <http://www.sree.net/teaching/lateditors.html> [Accessed on 22 October 2009]

 

Irby, Kenneth (2 April 2003 at 12:00 am). L.A. Times Photographer Fired Over Altered Image. [online] Poynter Online. Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. Available from: <http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=28082> [Accessed on 28 October 2009].

 

Repercussions

November 4, 2009

Following the publication of the picture, the situation developed very quickly. Walski didn’t realise the impact until the scandal reached him, when his superiors finally got hold of him by phone. After sending the original photographs to his editors, realising what he had done, Walski called Colin Crawford wanting to resign. “No, they are going to fire you,” replied Crawford. (Walker, 2003) By that time it was out of the D.O.P.’s hands.

In his interview with David Walker, Walski communicates his feelings about the event and the situation he got himself into.

 

“Why I chose this course is something I’ll go over and over in my head for a long time. […] It’s not just me. It’s what I’ve done to my co-workers, to the Times, to other photographers that were there. I feel really bad. […] I wake up in the morning and can’t believe that I did it, that it’s happening to me. But I did, and I can’t blame anybody but myself.” (Ibid)

 

Walski realised the fact that he was unethical and that his mistakes had consequences, not only for him, but for the entire photography industry, as others have stated.

“I’ve been a professional photographer my whole professional life. The craft I value the most–I doubt if I can get back into it. I feel like I’ve disgraced it. I’ve tarnished it. What I did tarnished every photographer to a degree, and I feel really bad about that. And the humiliation of being fired…” recalls Walski. (ibid)

 

The photographer pondered about the future of his career and about his position at the time. Once dismissed from the L.A. Times, Walski fully grasped the gravity of the situation. As he talked to his friend Bartletti, he announced: “I f—ed up, and now no one will touch me. I went from the front line for the greatest newspaper in the world, and now I have nothing. No cameras, no car, nothing.” (Irby, 2003) The Times had provided all the equipment for him. Walski had then reached a turning-point in his life: “My whole career–if it’s not over, it’s certainly going to change dramatically.” (Walker, 2003)

 

“I did a Google search on my name, and it comes up in about 25 languages. Every photographer wants to be known for a picture he’s taken. I’ll be known for this. It’s not something I’m proud of.” (Ibid)

And Walski was right: a Google search made using his name now directs only to websites referring to this 2003 scandal.

 

Brian Walski obviously felt very bad for what he had done, he did not however try to justify himself, he took full responsibility for his actions.

 

He now runs a private photography firm called Brian Walski Photography near Denver, Colorado. We can notice that he has retired to a place far away from anything with a direct connection to that unfortunate period of his career. Furthermore, no content of his website alludes to any of it. Walski has definitely put the 2003 incident behind him.

 

How did Walski’s superiors deal with the situation?

 

 

 

Walker, David (7 May 2003). Brian Walski Discusses his Doctored Photo, Photo District News. [online] AllBusiness.com, Inc. Available from: <http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4450879-1.html> [Accessed on 28 October 2009]

 

Irby, Kenneth (2 April 2003 at 12:00 am). L.A. Times Photographer Fired Over Altered Image. [online] Poynter Online. Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. Available from: <http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=28082> [Accessed on 28 October 2009].

Reactions and criticism

November 4, 2009

When the alteration of the picture was first noticed, the editors were shocked. Thom McGuire, the Hartford Courant‘s Assistant Managing Editor for Photography & Graphics, had not noticed the manipulation at first and therefore sent the picture off for publishing. After being alerted about the composite and analysing the picture in detail, he contacted Colin Crawford, Director of Photography for the Los Angeles Times, whose immediate reaction was one of “shock and disbelief” (Irby, 2003). He said “No way! There must be a technical, digital… satellite glitch explanation” (ibid).

When he finally reached Walski over the phone he couldn’t accept what the photographer admitted to him: “Give me an excuse. Tell me it was a satellite transmission problem. Say something,” Crawford told Walski (Walker, 2003). However, the latter would not make up any excuses. Following this, the scandal flared up.

 

Of course, a lot of reactions could be expected. “Most have been very nice and supportive and kind. I haven’t heard from everybody. A lot of them are just shocked,” says Walski (Walker, 2003). Although many seemed to react with sympathy, they could not agree with what he did. The most affected by this event were his colleagues and other people directly involved.

“What Brian did is totally unacceptable and he violated our trust with our readers,” Crawford says. “We do not for a moment underestimate what he has witnessed and experienced. We don’t feel good about doing this, but the integrity of our organization is essential. If our readers can’t count on honesty from us, I don’t know what we have left.” (Irby, 2003). McGuire said a few days after the incident that he still felt “sick to my stomach over the whole episode.” (Ibid).

 

A fair amount of photographers felt somewhat insulted by the event, in particular photojournalists as they believe their credibility has been tarnished by the scandal. “There is not ever a good time for such manipulation, but this is the worst time. What really differentiates us from other photographers and media is our credibility. We have a history of getting it right, accurately… Our credibility is all that we have,” says Vincent LaForet, “For me there is no acceptable explanation.” (Ibid)

Others agree, such as Betty Unisden, photographer for the Seattle Times, who remarks “Unfortunately the stain of this photograph will harm journalists collectively.” (Ibid; the photographer’s name was however, in the source, misspelt. Correct spelling was found in a book by Julianne H. Newton, see references.)

Peter Souza, Chicago Tribune (and former White House) photographer, adds his belief that “our entire profession is now under a cloud of suspicion regarding our credibility”. (Van Riper, 2003)

 

As we can see, the incident had a big impact on the photojournalism industry. What happened next? How did Walski feel about the event? Did it also have a big impact on the public?

 

 

 

Irby, Kenneth (2 April 2003 at 12:00 am). L.A. Times Photographer Fired Over Altered Image. [online] Poynter Online. Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. Available from: <http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=28082> [Accessed on 28 October 2009].

 

Walker, David (7 May 2003). Brian Walski Discusses his Doctored Photo, Photo District News. [online] AllBusiness.com, Inc. Available from: <http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4450879-1.html> [Accessed on 28 October 2009]

 

Van Riper, Frank (9 April 2003). Manipulating Truth, Losing Credibility. [online] Washington Post. Available from: <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030409.htm> [Accessed on 22 October 2009]

 

Newton, Julianne Hickerson (2001). The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality, p. 80. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [Accessed on 3 November 2009]