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Monday, 05 July 2010


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Its done all the time...Editors wanted you to leave it "loose" so they can crop it....Photographers always wonder what picture will look like after the desk gets ahold of it.... Not just how big on the page, but how they cropped it....I was one of those wondering for 35 years....Even more so when you shot for the wires On big a story, looking at all the tear sheets you could get and how the picture was played and cropped... They were always cropped in some way...maybe only a 1/8th of inch...

In this case yeah, the Pres might just be leaning down so he can hear what a shorter person might be saying. Instead the whole meaning of the photo is completely taken out of context. I think you are right to call foul on this one, if a photographer did it they would lose their job, nay?

Spot on Mike. You mean to tell me that Ms. Duncan was not able to discern that the cropped image changed the meaning of the picture, and the unethicality of doing so? Could there be a more compelling example of incompetence, and reason for termination?

I have to say, I don't feel a sense of outrage about this one. The cover is pretty clearly meant to evoke Obama burdened by the oil spill. I don't think anyone would contest that he has been. The "content" of the modified image doesn't invent or even really shade what seems an obvious truth -- that the President is occupied with, and unhappy about, the disaster in the Gulf. This is no secret or revelation. The cover image dispenses with the facts of the moment of the original photograph -- but evokes the hardly controversial truth of the larger situation.

Right -wing biased media. Not a new thing in America. They just don't get called on it often enough.

I'm actually willing to believe that the photo was edited for the reasons the Economist states. I just think it doesn't matter. If people get a different message from the picture from the one the Economist intended, that's their fault for doing a bad job of editing the image. That's true whether the editing is heavy photoshopping, selective cropping, or just choosing a misleading picture. Intent doesn't matter; only outcome.

For what it's worth, I wrote to them (I'm a subscriber):

Obviously there are several questions about this, I'll mention just two.

Firstly, while I think there are cases where severely editing photographs is acceptable, I think that (other than where the editing is obvious) it would be a good idea to mention that the photograph has been edited.

Secondly I refer to Emma Duncan's response quoted in the New York Times' "Media Decoder" blog, which I quote in part here:

"I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. [...]"

Unfortunately, it's very hard indeed to read the edited picture that way as I expect many people are telling you. I'd suggest that you might consider hiring someone who is good at looking at photographs to avoid this kind of error of judgement in future.

PS to comment I just sent

I hadn't actually read your whole article when I sent the comment (I skipped to the media decoder thing). In particular I had not read how you read the two versions of the image, so it's interesting that I get the same reading, I think.

Emma Duncan's reply isn't holding water.
Use a different frame, crop tighter, whatever. The woman is in the frame, the woman stays in the frame. To remover her from her place in the photograph by editing her out (as opposed to a tighter crop) is telling a lie. Some people would even cry that a tighter crop is a lie, if a majority agrees that the "Obama laments oil spill in solitude" look was achieved by cropping out the elements that reveal otherwise.

Basically, this edit removes "journalism" from photojournalism. If that doesn't matter anymore, fine...I didn't get the memo.

I saw this earlier today. We're going to include it in our ethics of photo-editing show this Wednesday.

Normally I shrug about this stuff. But this one got under my skin. The comment I left on the NYT site:

"The longer I look at this the less acceptable I find it. This photo was not edited to avoid confusion, as Duncan claims. It was changed solely to make an impression with newsstand buyers, an impression that's utterly misleading at the moment this image was taken.

It stinks. Really."

The economist often manipulates photos, pictures, etc for their magazine to make a point. When I first saw this I figured it was just two pictures combined, Obama and the oil rig.

This is, and should be, out of bounds. I agree Mike, a foul should rightly be called.

Tough call, Mike. There's no doubt the image works. It's clear, it's powerful and it resonates. And who is to say the cloning out of someone or something from an image is so different from a crop in the traditional darkroom or any less authentic? No doubt The Economist had the rights to modify the image in a way that would sell more copies of the newspaper. I doubt they agreed a contract which required them to tell it just as it was.

As with so many of these "manipulation" questions, it's not so much an absolute principle, more when a line has been crossed. It was here; you've called this one right, I think. Duncan's comment that "I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated" seems both confused and disingenuous. In fact, probably without realising it, she's isolated a significant problem in reporting today: the Romantic focus on the heroic (or otherwise) individual as the crux of story. Why does she want readers to focus on Obama? Here we see a photograph being used divorce him from the complexity of the situation, from the need to take counsel and find solutions that involve many people and start from shared, rather than heroically individual, perspectives.

Duncan is no more guilty than most in the media as they buy into the cult of personality and use images to support it. It's used just as much to vilify as to endorse, and in both cases the ways it's used is as unsophisticated and unintelligent as it is unethical and, let's face it, untruthful.

These heroic representations are hardwired into the US media*, but as Duncan's foolish comments indicate, it's now as prevalent in British and some other European media too. There's no such thing as an apolitical image, but there are untruthful ones.

*The most spectacular/grotesque example I've seen is US cinema advertising for military recruitment.

KGB'd? Is this some Photoshop tool? Or are any of these applicable?

And MM? Just too many possibilities!

I like that cover. It "illustrates" very well the disaster.
But it clearly shouts that we are living in the "good image" era, no matter how real.
Italian prime minister says everything and the contrary, but he never miss his powder puff, hidden in his handkerchief. The important thing is his nose and forehead never shine.
Just to speak of things I know.
The photographer who alters his images can do it for the "beauty", but also to show what he has seen the way he sees (the *facts* he is looking at).
This is different from an editor altering a photograph to say what he wants to say. Well is it?
And the other news: hey, the economist only shows VIPs! Why publishing the back of that unimportant, unknown person?

"Intent doesn't matter; only outcome."

I disagree. Of course there is relativism in play. But there's a very clear rule in journalism: you can select, crop, and correct, but you cannot alter or misrepresent. The *most basic* form of alteration is to make something appear to be there that wasn't, or make something appear to not be there that was. It's just a basic rule of journalism. When you violate that, you violate the trust between the viewer and the report.

It's just very, very clear ethically: rule exists; rule was broken. In fact, it's the outcome that doesn't matter.


I really don't see what the big deal is here. Are you complaining that the photo was altered, or that it was altered poorly? Also, I disagree that the obama alone version looks like he's in despair: to me, it looks like he's looking down at an enormous mess and wondering what to do with it. I think the edit cleans up the composition and highlights the meaning of the scene.

"KGB'd? Is this some Photoshop tool?"

I think I just coined that one...after the practice of the old Russian KGB of removing disgraced (or "disappeared") individuals from official photographs.

"And MM? Just too many possibilities!"

Mainstream media. Sorry.


Coming from a photojournalist background - working for two weekly newspapers on the Central Coast of California (I'm no major force in the photojournalism world though, let that be known) - I would bet you all a significant amount of money that the photographer of the original photo wished, absolutely WISHED he could have gotten that shot where Obama was alone with the oil rigs in the background. Perhaps he did? Perhaps he could of? Both images, altered and unaltered tell a different story, but they tell something similar too and when it comes to magazine cover images, simplicity in the composition sometimes is the best route to follow.
I'm not advocating what the Economist has done here, but there are different rules when creating a cover for a magazine vs pure reportage images.
I will re-emphasize that the photographer probably would have liked to have gotten a solo image of the President with this background though... maybe you might drop a line to him Mike? See what he says from his perspective?



This one should go up on a Wall of Shame somewhere.
I agree it's a powerful image. Is this supposed to be a news publication or is it "Image of the Week"?
The problem is that it's just not true and Duncan's feeble excuse also overlooks an important point in that she has deliberately created an impression of the President that is patently dishonest.
And in so doing she's manipulated public perception towards a point that was in her mind but which did not exist in reality.
Obama should sue for defamation.

Actually, wasn't it the NKVD?

Ironic, isn't it, that the Economist is running a story this week on "Fakes and Mistakes"? I don't think I saw their cover of two weeks ago mentioned anywhere though.

I totally agree with the criticism of The Economist voiced by others, but I do want to note the they are not "Right-wing biased media" as Bob claims. In fact, they endorsed Obama for President.

I think the problem with the photo can be stated simply: Because it is a photo, most people assume it pictures reality, but it shows something that never happened. Therefore, it is a lie.


For a period of three years I read nearly every issue of The Economist, not because I agree with their bent but because they are a cheeky current affairs magazine that is the opposite to the steadfastedly by-the-facts reporting known on North American side of the Atlantic. It is in fact an opinion magazine and no one who has read it would ever call them unbiased. Their front pages are 'illustrations' and often are illustrations. Open the magazine and read any of their articles. They are all commentary. The cover is the same.

I agree with the comment posted earlier - The Economist often has a 'made up' cover that's put together from different photos or cartoons. When I received this issue I never assumed this was a real photograph, I assumed it was separate images put together.

How this is evidence of "right-wing biased media" I have no idea. Why isn't it just as accurate to claim it's left wing biased media, if it's intended to make him look more angry or despairing with BP than he really was?

I think to anyone who has worked in the journalism business this is pretty cut and dry. Mike, your point about trust between the reader and the publication is the most important to my mind.
I would also like to comment on the old argument about publications printing sensational or dramatic photos to sell copies on the newsstand. Most magazines and newspapers sell primarily based on subscription (and generate their real revenue from advertising). If they print a sensational photo on the front page and sell an additional 20% on the newsstand, for example, it won't significantly increase their revenue.

While not falling into the parameters of photojournalism, I think what Outside magazine did with Lance Armstrong is even worse- photoshopping BFD on his shirt with the number of his age. Although they fess up to it in small print on the cover, they did so without so much as alerting him in advance...


@Steve: As regards to wish that one can get a shoot like that, I bet it is hard due to the nature of this man. It is a major thing if you catch him down and out, alone, facing the seas, with some oil related thing in the back.

That is why we insist so much on real and undogged picture. Not even contrast and darken etc. would sometimes allow. I do not mind to have an oil paintings or cartoon whatever, just do not pretend that it is a picture, look like a picture but in fact no such picture exist in the real world. You should not allow to invent a picture to tell a story without a base on the reality. In reporting, I cannot agree that you can just to say your thing you like, then support it by having a dogged pictures.

"Obama should sue for defamation".

Come on, how has this damaged his reputation? The fact he's in a particular pose with no one next to him damages his reputation more than being in that pose with someone next to him?? I can accept (though don't necessarily agree) that the picture may be misleading, but I cannot see how it can be defamatory.

And honestly, where is the outrage that should be deafening, non stop and nationwide when it comes to this...


Mike -

I don't buy The Economist's explanation. If the photo is too puzzling for readers, write a caption for it. Solves the puzzle.

Plus, I find it curious that both BP (the subject pf the photo) and The Economist are British companies. They have the same loyalties, after all, and it not to us.

The doctored cover makes President Obama look like the bad guy in this whole mess and not BP. Is he hanging his head in shame? Is it embarassment? Is he thinking 'I should have done more to prevent this?"

From the original photo, you do not get this sense at all.

Yes, "KGB" is a Photoshop tool, known in PS5 as "Content Aware Fill," and I wouldn't be surprised if photo editors are getting just a little bit carried away with the gee whiz factor of this powerful new tool and losing sight of the consequences in cases like this one. When Trotsky was airbrushed out of a photograph, this was a project that could take days and wasn't done lightly.

I used it today to remove a distracting brass doorknob from the background of a perfectly boring photograph of a tripod, which I then used to illustrate a post on APUG.org about a modification I'd made to the tripod. This image manipulation was radical, but I don't think that it should affect readers' impressions about the emotional state of the tripod.

Had the photographer simply used a longer lens to to achieve the exact same image, would this also have been ethically suspect?

In a different time, 30 years ago, would you get the same outcry if the picture was cropped to only show the President?

I agree with Keith, it's an opinion magazine and their covers are done for effect. They make points with their covers, and this cover certainly makes a point.

"But there's a very clear rule in journalism: you can select, crop, and correct, but you cannot alter or misrepresent. "

I'm lost here: how are selection and cropping not tools of alteration and (mis)representation? We choose our shots, exposure, etc. All of those choices contribute to the message of the image. There are bright lines: adding Tony Hayward to the picture would clearly have been misrepresentation. But most lines come in shades of gray. Photographs are not truth, they are always representations. The photographer makes choices -- every one of those choices is a misrepresentation in some respects. We're not so naive as to imagine that photographs are ever objective.

Dear Nicholas and Ingles,

It's what Mike said. Altering emphasis can be problematical (and has been in the past) in photojournalism, but it doesn't have to be. Altering CONTENT by adding or removing elements of substance always is.

It is not the same as dodging or burning-in or modest cropping. As for immodest cropping, yes that can (and in fact has, at times) violate ethics by eliminating substantial elements of importance to the veracity of the scene.

One can invent a theoretical construct in which such additions or subtractions are innocuous. That construct almost invariably fails in real world testing, as this cover and the editor's excuses neatly demonstrate. The naivete implicit in such philosophizing might be charming, were it not so damaging.

For further discussion, see "Don't Make News" http://tinyurl.com/27qmzh .

pax / Ctein

I agree, Mike. Any photograph that has been altered to this extent should be labeled as such. We are told when movies are edited for television. Why not tell the public when editing is done on photographs for newspapers and magazines, especially news magazines.
Reuters seems to be particularly bad when it comes to ethics. When you mentioned Reuters, I immediately remembered the doctored photos from Lebanon in 2006, also from Reuters. But I have also seen examples where photos were not necessarily manipulated in post-processing, but were heavily cropped, leaving out important information that was in the remainder of the photograph, information that illustrated the environment in which the photo was taken. In these instances, the crops were not for layout purposes, but to leave out important and pertinent information that the editor did not want the reader to see, information that changed the entire meaning of the photograph. These are lies of omission.
When someone writes an opinion piece, we generally know where they come from and what their bias is. A photograph is more likely to be considered "factual". When photos are cropped or manipulated, the victims are not only the readers. The magazines, newspapers and television presentations have lost credibility. Can we ever again believe our eyes when we see a photo in any publication?

As Paul Steinke's comment suggests, the context is important. The Economist frequently runs illustrations or "photo art" on the cover. (Indeed, when I saw this on the newsstand, I assumed that it was exactly that. I'm surprised to learn that it is a single photo.) Given that history, the Economist is not representing that the image is authentic or documentary; they're saying something about the content, subject or mood of the particular issue. This just doesn't bother me all that much. Now the Lance Armstrong Photoshopped t-shirt is a different story...

As I posted @ RFF:

We are not dealing with an ethical grey area here.

The Economist bills itself as an "Authoritative weekly newspaper focusing on international politics and business news and opinion." I do not think that they really want to be confused with that other Weekly World News. But hey, maybe they're racing to the bottom faster than I knew.

Also, Reuters is clearly not to blame. In fact, they're clearly pretty pissed off. From the NYT blog entry:

“Reuters has a strict policy against modifying, removing, adding to or altering any of its photographs without first obtaining the permission of Reuters and, where necessary, the third parties referred to,” Thomson Reuters said in a statement on Sunday.

"Their front pages are 'illustrations' and often are illustrations. Open the magazine and read any of their articles. They are all commentary. The cover is the same."

There's an old saying: you're entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts." The photograph in question was presented as a straight photograph -- which this one manifestly was (for contrast, compare to this example, or these rather more professional ones). By altering the photo's contents, The Economist was creating new facts.

That is not cool.

The cover illustration of the Economist(and Outside, for that matter)should have been labelled "Illustration by..." or "Photocollage by ..." and insert the name of the art director or PS tech. But even better would have been to run the original photo, plus a one paragraph long caption, including date, time, and location shot, explaining what was going on between the President and the other two.


This is also a made up cover. Is it worse than what we're talking about?

"I doubt they agreed a contract which required them to tell it just as it was."

But they did agree to such a contract--with their readers. Whether the Economist is selling reportage or analysis or opinion, the presumption is that the product is based on facts and events as they are. If the editors are deleting people from news photos to "illustrate" their take on events, what are they omitting from their accounts and commentaries?

Mind you, I think The Economist is one of the better news weeklies, particularly because they are not afraid to show their biases, or to call BS on the powerful and on their supporters. But bias is not deception, nor justification for deception. And that's the line that has been crossed here.

The fact that The Economist routinely uses illustrations to create dramatic covers only makes the transgression worse. Why not use an illustration in this case instead of doctoring a news photo? It would have been questionable to merely crop out actors in the scene, or obscure them with graphics or text, or by blurring or darkening; but cunningly replacing actors with photorealistic ersatz reality is fabrication, and deception.

The nature and degree of the doctoring is relevant. What was done here is a clear step beyond the examples Duncan gives of other "edited" cover photographs, in which the alterations were obvious and transparent to even casual perusal. Duncan is attempting to move the line in the sand.

Sure, there's aesthetic merit in the alteration. Quite a bit, in fact. So am I to read the Economist that way--as an arbitrarily fictionalized, tidier, more dramatic version of reality? Just the covers, then? How about just the photographs?

Yes, it can be argued that this is more or less what we get from most mass media news, but that doesn't mean we should meekly allow the media to set, and reset, the ground rules as they please and not push back.


As Mike pointed out in his post, the Reuters statement is not a denial, and can be read as an admission of complicity. It's a classic "non-denial denial".

Dear J Hart,

The issue is not whether a photo is nonobjective; it is whether it is FALSE. Those are not the same thing.

There is an objective truth in this reality, which is that the President was standing next to (and apparently talking to) another person. That person and that conversation was really happening. The photo says it wasn't. That's not a shade of grey, it's not an opinion, it's not a representation. It is contrary to reality in a very blatant way. It is not a different perspective, it is a lie.

I'm probably a bigger relativist than you, but even relativists understand that there is a scale and there are gradations. All things are not matters of opinion, all opinions are not equally valid, and all misrepresentations of reality do not carry equal weight. There is shading the truth and there's contradicting it.


Dear EB West,

I cannot speak to 30 years ago, having been out of the business by then, but if you'll allow me to go back 40 years, the answer was yes. In-camera or in-darkroom manipulations that substantively altered the presentation from the reality were not acceptable. The thing is, they were rarely caught. But when they were, they were excoriated.

You could do it by commission or omission. For example, if you wanted to make a popular politician seem unpopular, you'd choose the camera angle that produced the most visual separation between the pol and the audience and then crop in the darkroom. Conversely, you could find the right angle and with a telephoto lens compress a sparse audience into an seemingly packed throng.

It happened with unfortunate regularity (those weren't hypotheticals). When caught, it was deemed unethical. It was a material distortion of reality, not merely a 'viewpoint' nor 'opinion.'

pax / Ctein

Bruce Stinhoff asks a very interesting question: "Had the photographer simply used a longer lens to to achieve the exact same image, would this also have been ethically suspect?"

It's all about where to draw the line. The answer to Bruce's question is probably "yes", in the medium and long term as using a long lens would still be a representation tuned to a false notion of how the world works. It also implicates the photographer and the picture editor in the ethical choice, which creates some interesting issues in itself.

In the short term, I think it could also be "yes": suppose there was another photographer there, who took the whole view. There could be a very similar debate going on about which photograph approximated more nearly to the "truth" and was one of them a misrepresentation, and a calling-to-account of the picture editor or photographer for choosing one image over another. It's a slightly different debate, but it's a legitimate one.

The additions to Armstrong's shirt are themselves illiterate - "38" is neither a sentence nor an abbreviation, and "BFD" is an acronym; neither requires a period (or full stop).

2 steps closer and a wider angle lens would have made the same photo without the woman. Wait, the Secret Service would have stopped that photo.
Maybe the photo editor did what the photographer really wanted to?

I'll give the Economist credit for attempting to create covers that carry some meaning beyond just the factual, something rare these days. That said, they would have done better to hire an illustrator than to have edited a wire photo.

I have to object to Mike's opposition of design vs. meaning. Thoughtful design is intrinsically concerned with creating meaning, just with the meaning of an entire spread/book as well as the meaning contained within a single image. Certainly some design never ventures farther than the superficial, but that's true of any aesthetic discipline, photography included.

"Had the photographer simply used a longer lens to to achieve the exact same image, would this also have been ethically suspect?"

The point is that it may not have been possible because this particular shot may not have actually existed. The problem is not the content, it's the alteration.

"In a different time, 30 years ago, would you get the same outcry if the picture was cropped to only show the President?"

No, because again, the problem is alteration, not cropping. You couldn't crop to get this image. No one is saying that the President should not be shown standing alone. The point is that he WASN'T alone and there are no photos (presumably) of him alone. And by showing him that way, you are altering the reality of the photo - manipulating viewers ideas, assumptions, and expectations.

I have to agree with Wil Macaulay regarding the Economist's covers being illustrations, not photo journalism. The covers try to portray what is usually, or maybe always, their lead Editorial--not a lead or inside "news" cover story. I don't have any problem with them illustrating an editorial. They could, however, cite the cover illustration in their "On the Cover" call out on the Contents page, and even credit the photographer(s) illustrators, etc.

This week's cover (July 3) shows some city scape buildings, an electrical pylon, and a a very large pixelated mushroom cloud on a background of clouds to illustrated their editorial on Cyberwar. The clouds look photographic and I'm not sure about the buildings or mushroom cloud.

What seems to me to be a worse offense by the Economist is that they do do not credit any of the photographs they use. Likewise, the journalists are not credited with their stories either.

Mike, be careful what you say about the KGB, you might find yourself CIA'd ;)

It's unethical. Plain and simple.

"Obama could just as well have been silently contemplating what he should do next regarding the spill or what he had for breakfast that morning."

True, but I deserve to have the original data to interpret for myself. A cop in court can't fake evidence just because he's sure his lie supports the correct conclusion, and a scientist can't change his raw data for a similar reason.


@David Paterson, "BFD" is not an acronym, because it is unpronounceable as a word (unlike SCUBA or SNAFU). "BFD" is, instead, an initialism. As an interesting point of trivia, the word "acronym" was, like seemingly everything else, invented at Bell Labs.

@ Keith B

The Outside photo is labeled as an illustration - sort of. It says "Note: not Armstrong's real T-shirt".

Hi Mike - your comment in reply to what I think may have been my comment about the breakfast business appears to have been made without my original comment being posted first unless I've overlooked it. I'm not that bothered (well, maybe a tad;)) but just for the sake of clarity you might want to insert it if you can. If not, hey, I wouldn't blame you!

I don't read The Economist's covers as news. I read them as illustrations. The covers reflect the magazine's view on current happenings. I find their approach rather effective; it is a good way to use images. I hope they can continue doing it after the current controversy. Perhaps they can make it more explicit that the photos have been edited. This doesn't need to be verbal; for example this is the current cover: http://www.economist.com/printedition/

The manipulation is more than just a crop, too: there's water to the right of Obama's head that must have come from somewhere, and a whole wodge of grey inserted above the oil-rig, too. I'd love to know if this is the first instance of "content-aware fill". Also, I'd love to know the sizes of image pre-crop and pre-print - that's some crop-factor there!

Mike, I disagree with your assessment that `design' is `dullard' and `meaning' more `subtle'. Imagine you were approaching the magazine cover for the first time in your local newsagent: what you see is a composition that works fairly well (text fits around the subject-matter OK), *and* a message - to me, it makes Obama's pose look thoughtful.

The fact that that message differs from the Reuters photographer's original idea does not invalidate either image, however. The two images exist, that is all; the problem arises when the viewer has some preconception of objectivity. The fact Reuters don't like people doing this to their images is one for their legal teams to sort out. The rest of us can sit back and read the words too.

Well, this has just become a less academic discussion for me. I've been asked to "KGB" a photo: a couple of years ago I took the photographs for the wedding of two dear friends (aside: never again. It was without doubt the most stressful thing I've ever done; there were very particular circumstances why they wanted me to do it and I agreed). Anyway, I've been asked to edit someone out of one of the pictures. Bridesmaid has just upgraded her boyfriend for a much superior version, and wants to remove all evidence of entry-level boyfriend: a low-spec model with a cruddy user-interface, apparently, and based on a platform that had come to the end of its development lifecycle.

I'm going to do it of course, as I'm a family friend, not a reporter. Thou shalt draw the line somewhere. And there is this cool new "content-aware fill" tool in the latest Photoshop.

I do wonder, though, how entry-level boyfriend might feel about becoming an unperson. Ah well. Probably not my problem.

I'm late to the discussion, but I wonder what people think of this question: If the photographer intends to create a lie by deliberately excluding crucial contextual information from the image frame, but accidentally (say, due to not realizing his viewfinder only provides 90% coverage) includes those elements in his negative or file from the camera. Is he then permitted to crop in order to "correct" his error? Would doing so be different in any way from having succeeded in his original intent? My impression is that deceptive/selective (choose your preferred characterization) framing is a matter of course in photojournalism, and has pretty much always been so. Is the basic contract of technical factuality between journalist and viewer anything more than an illusion? (Or, more charitably, any ideal honored more frequently in the breach?)

I'd also note that Reuters has been guilty more than once of cropping photos to alter meaning. The most recent occasion I'm aware of was the cropping of pictures of soldiers from the Israeli assault on those Turkish activists' ship, to exclude smears of blood and knives in the hands of activists. (Reuters was caught and outer on the Internet, after which they replaced the doctored photos with full frames.) The explanation of the Economist cover image in terms of illustration vs. photojournalism sounds more plausible to me than Reuters' claim of inadvertent error in their crops.

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