Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is There A Doctorer In The House?

It's hard to believe that the Nightly News producers had the audacity to air their Dec. 3 story that was severely critical of French magazine editors who digitally alter photographs of models to make them appear younger and more attractive. At least eight times over the past 14 months, these same producers have digitally altered photos and video images in Nightly News stories to make the subjects appear older. The most recent occurrence was on the Dec. 13 broadcast, during a story about blues guitarist Honey Boy Edwards. Video that was supposed to represent 1930's Mississippi had obviously been doctored with specks of dirt, vertical lines, hairs and cigarette burns to make it appear older. And video of a freight train received the same treatment. The following Nightly News broadcasts also contained stories in which videos or photos were altered to make them look older:

>11/14/09--A story about Ohio special needs students who refurbish bicycles and donate them to needy members of the community contained three scenes that had been altered to appear older.
>8/18/09--A story about the H1N1 virus (which Nightly News is still calling Swine Flu) contained footage of a classroom that had been altered to make it appear older.
>6/10/09--A "What Works" segment about Donna Karan's "Urban Zen" charitable foundation contained footage of Karan and her husband that had been artificially doctored to make it look older.
>4/30/09--During a story about the H1N1 virus, footage of a hospital was altered to make it seem older.
>11/23/08--A story about old NYC subway cars that are recycled as underwater reefs contained footage of a subway car that was doctored to make it look older. The hilarious thing about this was that the subway car that was made to look older was actually new--the exterior of the subway car had a modern LED digital display and the people riding in the car were dressed in current fashions.
>10/25/08--During a story about layaway, videos of newspaper ads from the 1970's were doctored to make them appear much older.
>10/22/08--During a story about geothermal energy in Iceland, the camera panned across some still photos; the image was altered to make it seem older.

Altering magazine photos to make models appear younger is despicable. And altering news video images to make subjects appear older is equally despicable. Furthermore, it raises some serious ethical questions about Nightly News. In what other circumstances are the producers doctoring images? Are they digitally adding or removing people from videos or photos? Are Nightly News correspondents really where they claim to be? During election night 2008, Brian Williams bragged about NBC's great new technology. He told us that by standing in front of a green screen, a correspondent could be made to appear as if he or she was anywhere in the world. So has Richard Engel really been reporting from Afghanistan, or has he been standing in front of a green screen somewhere in the bowels of 30 Rock? Is Chuck Todd really standing in front of the White House? Is Kelly O'Donnell really reporting from the Capitol? Who knows? If the producers would try to deceive the viewers by altering footage to make it appear older, there's no reason to believe they wouldn't also try to deceive the viewers in other ways. Doctoring footage may be acceptable on Dateline or Today, but it's not acceptable on Nightly News. Nightly News has a higher standard to adhere to, and it's time the producers understood this. The producers owe the viewers an apology for altering Nightly News video images, and they owe us a pledge that they will never again engage in this deception. And by the way, it might also be nice if they stopped criticizing others for offenses that they themselves commit. That's called hypocrisy.

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