Fake Romney photo reinforces the need for fact checking
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Last week, The Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper of Tufts University, published an editorial titled “Photo release should serve as a warning.” The gist of the piece was that a recently released photo of Mitt Romney mocking gay high school classmates shows the times we are living in and should serve as a warning of Mitt Romney’s character.
There was one big problem with the editorial: the photo was a fake. In fact, it wasn’t just a single Photoshopped picture making the rounds and grabbing laughs; it was part of a large spread Vanity Fair produced in its humor section.
The student paper failed to fact-check, but it wasn’t alone – so did the rest of the world, it seems. The photo captioned “Uproarious old Mitt does his best Liberace!” was a big hit on the Internet, and even bloggers from The Huffington Post and Politico were fooled by the manipulation. With one search on Twitter, you’ll find there are a few stragglers who haven’t heard the news yet.
The viral spread of the photo is a far better sign of the times and our character.
In the social-media age, honesty sometimes feels like an oxymoron. There’s a lot of danger with a website like Twitter, especially if it’s just one photo circulating from the Vanity Fair gallery instead of the whole set.
Unless you really want to make sure you’re not making a fool out of yourself before posting, you’re not going to look at that photo and say, “Something doesn’t look right here.” It looks natural. Having the gallery out in front of you is a different story, especially if it has a giant “humor” label at the top of the page. But with Twitter, you see 140 characters at a time and one picture at a time.
This situation is revealing of us as a whole. It doesn’t matter if something is right or wrong or is a parody; if it reinforces how we feel about somebody, we’re going to take it and run with it. The picture backs up a lot of opinions felt and stories told about Romney, and this photo gave physical evidence to those who wanted it.
It’s just that the evidence wasn’t real.
This election is receiving so much attention that everything is going to be heavily scrutinized. We need to be careful of that, especially in the remaining week. All undecided voters are looking for little things to swing them to a side, so a photo with this much attention is going to add to the fodder.
Few bothered to check to see if that photo was real, and obviously nobody on the Tufts Daily e-board could verify its validity. An editorial is just an opinion, but it is the opinion of the entire paper. The mistake takes away some credibility from a great paper with that piece, an article that sought to reveal the “real Romney” and turned him from the bully into the bullied.
Additionally, The Tufts Daily took down the editorial, so catching it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time (though the tweet that promotes the piece is still online). Ethically, Tufts Daily is in the wrong. Right or wrong, once published, it’s fair game. The newspaper violated that rule. The editors are trying to cover up their mistake.
It’s important that we’re not too trusting of each other as journalists and as news sources. Whether it is an effort to get things out before anybody else or whether it comes from personal bias, there is always going to be misinformation floating around (as we saw this summer when several media outlets misreported the Supreme Court’s health reform decision). It’s the danger of taking a side as a journalist, too. Everything you do after making a major mistake is going to be skewed and looked at in a new light.
We have to keep questioning and saying “something doesn’t look right here,” or that cycle of misinformation – whether it’s coming from Twitter, a student paper or a major news source – is just going to be fed.