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War and the Empire of Baloney

 War 
        and the Empire of Baloney

While
we haven’t seen many cases of adulteration of images
 in the international press, twisting captions has become in vogue—
specially in Brazilian newspapers. There are tens of cases in which
the editor introduces non-mentioned subjective ingredients in the
original caption, which aren’t evident by the pictured situation.

by:
Alberto Dines

 

From
the Aurélio dictionary, here are the definitions for
"cascata" in Portuguese:

1. Small waterfall
2. Pop. – Old and wrinkled woman.
3. Braz. Slang – lie
4. Braz. Slang – baloney, "hot air"
5. Braz. Journ.-  Inconsistent, rhetorical, non-factual, generally
long story

The
Anglo-American coalition has made 90 percent of all the mistakes it
could have made: from the moral to the political, from the strategic
to the tactic, from the historical to the propagandistic. Although the
military campaign seems to be victorious as it stands, it’s not hard
to pinpoint its critical points and clamorous mistakes. And, above all,
to imagine its future difficulties, some of which are insurmountable.

Therefore,
with a minimum of theoretical knowledge, a bit of journalistic expertise
and some doses of maturity, one can easily fill entire pages of well-founded
and consistent analysis against this military insanity. What cannot
be done is to take advantage of the generalized opposition to the war
and build a journalistic "everything-goes". Like all others,
it will eventually be unveiled. At some point, it will end up compromising
the world consensus against the conflict. At some point, this state
of exception will likely become the rule.

The
old expedient of "cascata" is being legitimized by
a holy indignation. The marketing of sacred wrath has blended with personal
marketing, both tooled by folly and oversimplification. The member of
the Brazilian Academy of Letters cum journalist of page 2 of Folha
de S. Paulo, who was nudged in this forum and is now sorry, now
recognizes that one can’t mix Bush with American cultural contributions
(Sunday, April 6th).

The
montage built a few days ago by the Los Angeles Times photographer
is an example of an increasing and worrisome wave of rascality. The
photographic "cascata" was caught by the paper’s publishers
and its author was immediately punished. The author admitted the breach
and explained that his idea was to enlarge the dramatic effect of the
situation. Plus, with editors constantly stuck in long meetings or lunches,
who is going to take the trouble to denounce the prevaricating co-worker?

The
montage or rearrangement of photos was not invented in this war. The
two most famous ones happened during the Second World War, but were
harmless. The first is related to the famous scene of the Marines raising
the American flag in the island of Iwo Jima, in the Pacific. All indications
are that the photographer (now dead) improved the dramatic composition,
aided by the soldiers. There was no falsifying, the flag was in fact
being hoisted up in the recently re-conquered island, but maybe in a
pose of less impact.

The
second montage was made by the Soviet propaganda machine when it put
the Russian flag in the hands of a soldier on top of the Reichstag,
in Berlin, right before the German capitulation, in May 1945. It was
not news: the Russians have always possessed an enviable know-how in
putting or removing characters from official photographs and thus rewrite
contemporary history at the whim of the Kremlin’s moves.

3The
death of civilians in this war—the so-called collateral effects—doesn’t
need to be invented, magnified or dramatized by ambitious and irresponsible
photographers. There are no intelligent bombs or "clean" wars.
The Iraqi population is paying a very high price for the insanity of
Saddam Hussein. The violent and terrifying picture doesn’t need to be
manipulated; the numbers are available and can be documented. Good journalism
can only help good causes. Bad journalism can only harm them.

Indomitable,
unbeatable

While
so far we haven’t seen many cases of adulteration of images in the international
press, twisting captions has become in vogue—specially in Brazilian
newspapers. There are tens of cases in which the on-call editor introduces
non-mentioned subjective ingredients in the original caption which aren’t
even made evident by the pictured situation. Due to lack of knowledge
of the English language (used in all captions sent by international
agencies and built into the photos) or maybe the need to complete the
empty space or a mere inclination for dramatizing—for all this
and more, "supplements" are inserted, which end up providing
unwary readers with a different interpretation of the actual scene.
Some cases follow:

**
On the front page of Jornal do Brasil on Monday (3/31), an armed
U.S. soldier, his back to the camera, and beside him, crouched and facing
the camera, a civilian. Caption: "Iraqi man is subdued by a coalition
soldier… after offending him". Where is the proof that the
Iraqi civilian disrespected the soldier? Pure imposition.

**
In Folha, same day, also on the front page, children sitting
down at the door of a house, facing an armed U.S. soldier: "Iraqi
children are removed from their houses by U.S. Marines…" Sat
down or squatted (accompanied by two women), they look at the photographer
beside the soldier. There is no indication that the children were being
removed. Pure rhetoric.

**
In O Globo, Saturday, 3/29, front page, huge photo of an Iraqi
woman with two children (one on her lap), with columns of smoke in the
background and, on the foreground, a coalition armored vehicle: "Mothers
with children flee the city of Basra… where violent confrontations
have been happening: the British accuse Iraqi paramilitary groups of
shooting civilians". There is no indication whatsoever of the presence
of Iraqi military or paramilitary personnel intimidating the small family.
The presence of the armored vehicle pointing in the direction contrary
to the escape route denies the possibility that the woman and children
had been the target of Iraqi fire. Pure inference.

**
In Estado de S. Paulo, Friday (4/4), front page: a strong
smoke column raises from a building in flames: "Fire and smoke
in Bagdah: Iraqis burn fuel to impair visibility for enemy pilots".
There is a lot of smoke coming from other buildings, but the darkness
is certainly due to the time when the photo was taken. There are lights
on in neighboring buildings and all indications are that it happened
at dawn. There are no deposits of fuel in a large urban center and the
fire in the wells occurred in the southern region of Basra. Pure imagination.

If
journalism instructors in our `diploma factories’ were real professionals,
they would have serious topics to suggest to their students for their
final papers. The captioning of war photos is one of them.

The
accusation by Folha’s special envoy Sérgio Dávila,
published on Sunday (4/6, page A25) deserves a special reflection. Title:
"Bagdah, the forbidden city". Subtitle: "The result of
the control of information and numerous denials is that few people really
know what is happening in the Iraqi capital". Well, it is known
that the reporter received instructions to leave Bagdah a few days ago
and is now in Aman, the Jordanian capital, from where he dispatched
the story.

Questions
arising from the seriousness of this accusation: why didn’t the paper
publish it before? If the reporter was in Bagdah for many days, why
didn’t he mention the iron-clad system of censorship of Saddam’s regime
while he was there? Didn’t want to lose his source, as alleged by Peter
Arnett? Afraid of reprisals? Okay: he could have said so in the story,
then—he is safe in Aman. Things of this relevance cannot remain
implied as "innuendo" (a Latin expression meaning insinuation,
used in the Yankee journalistic jargon). And for what reason didn’t
the newspaper highlight the sensational accusation on its front page?
Would it be too anti-Saddam and thus politically incorrect?

Folha
decided, instead, to highlight an interview with a "bomb-man"
photographed in Aman, with no hood or any other disguise. Until the
man blows himself up (as he promised to do), the newspaper remains a
nominee for the Peter Arnett Award for International "cascata".

And
since we have mentioned the New-Zealander journalist, we should mention
the title of the story Isto É used to greet him: "Indomitable".
You can’t discuss good taste, of course—specially when you consider
that the magazine calls itself "independent". But the adjective
seems to be slightly displaced when we know that, after acknowledging
that he had done a "stupid" thing, Arnett picked up three
fat contracts to remain in the same line of work. The king of "cascata"
visited Rio once and stated that the journalism school who invited him
was better than American journalism schools. Unbeatable.

 

Alberto
Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório
de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced
Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor
of the Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a
column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil.
You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br 

Translated
by Tereza Braga, email:
tbragaling@cs.com 

This
article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa
www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br
 

 

 

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