UPDATED: Altered Iran Missile Test Photo Makes Front Pages — Corrections Slow in Coming — Did Launch Fail?

By: Joe Strupp

The big news this week that Iran had successfully completed a missile test launch apparently had some big mistakes in coverage.

A misleading photo of four missiles being launched at once during the test, instead of the correct three, made its way to the front pages of the Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, as well as BBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and NYTimes.com, according to a New York Times blog.

The Times blog, “The Lede,” reports that Agence France-Presse obtained the four-missile image from the Web site of Sepah News, “the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” on Wednesday.

“Does Iran?s state media use Photoshop? The charge has been leveled before,” the blog stated. “So far, though, it can?t be said with any certainty whether there is any official Iranian involvement in this instance. Sepah apparently published the three-missile version of the image today without further explanation.”

One news outlet that apparently found, and transmitted, the correct image, with three missiles being launched, was the Associated Press.

AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll referred E&P’s requests for further information to spokesman Paul Colford. He said only that AP obtained its image from the same Sepah News site as other news outlets.

Colford cited the AP caption with the image it transmitted that stated: “In this image made available Thursday July 10, 2008, from Sepah News website owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, showing Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles being launched from an undisclosed location on Wednesday July 9, 2008, which officials have said have a range of 1,250 miles and is armed with a 1-ton conventional warhead….” It was labeled “AP Photo/Sepah News.”

A total of nine missiles were launched during the controversial testing Wednesday.

The Lede blog item can be found at:

http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/10/
in-an-iranian-image-a-missile-too-many/index.html?hp

By early afternoon Thursday, few of the major newspapers that had published the wrong image on their front pages had formally acknowledged the goof, apparently leaving it up to their blogs for now and possibly in print tomorrow.

The Los Angeles Times’ “Top of the Ticket” blog merely cited the “Lede” item, although it noted the L.A. Times was among those that ran the wrong image. Still, the paper carried no apparent correction online.

The Boston Globe, which also ran the incorrect version on Page One, added a link to the “Lede” item under its Web story about the missiles, but also without an obvious correction.

At the Chicago Tribune, the only apparent acknowledgement of the error came in a reader comment to the Tribune’s “The Swamp” blog.

Among the other news outlets that reported on the altered photo was the Christian Science Monitor, which provided online readers with a changing image that flipped back and forth from the original to the altered image to show exactly what was changed.

That report is found at:
http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2008/07/10/
iran?s-digital-duping/

UPDATE:

Late Thursday, AP distributed its own story on the incident, with an analyst suggesting that the Iranians altered the photo to disguise a launch failure:

(AP) An Iranian photograph showing a cluster of missile launches was apparently altered to add a fourth missile lifting off from a desert range, a defense analyst said Thursday.

“There’s no doubt the photo was doctored,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation Program for the London-based International Institute For Strategic Studies.

The image, posted Wednesday on a Web site owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, showed four missiles moments after launch, leaving trails of glowing exhaust and clouds of billowing brown dust.

The scene was described as part of military maneuvers in which nine missiles were test fired, including an enhanced version of the Shahab-3. Iranian officials say the new missile has a range of 1,250 miles, which would enable a strike on Israel and most of the Middle East. The tests drew immediate criticism from Washington.

Some media outlets used the photo, but it was not carried by The Associated Press.

The photo on the Sepah News site was replaced Thursday with an image showing three missiles ? which appear to be the same as the earlier photo. In place of the fourth missile, however, the photo showed one still on the ground in its launch position and what appears to be a vehicle nearby.

The photo was used by the AP. The image with four launches was no longer available in the Sepah site.

Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official who followed arms control issues, believes the photo was manipulated after the missile malfunctioned.

“They had a rocket launch and one failed,” he said. “They have had other tests that have succeeded, but Iran tends to exaggerate its capabilities.”

There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials on the photos.

“The whole purpose of these launches was to demonstrate Iran’s capabilities and a photo showing one out of four rockets failing doesn’t have the intended impact,” Fitzpatrick said.



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