A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. But what do you do if those thousand words also encapsulate a lie?
Photos from an Aug. 14 campaign event for U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a coal mine in Beallsville, Ohio, showed scores of miners queued up to hear the candidate speak. Others showed row upon row of work-stained, hard-hatted miners standing behind the candidate as he spoke, lending an air of grassroots support for Romney.But the pictures don’t tell the full story. Certainly, the Republican campaign can be seen as being more friendly to the coal industry. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual miners in the photos would pick Romney.
The mine’s owner closed the mine for the day and told the miners that he would not pay them for their missed eight-hour shift, because paying them to attend a political event would violate U.S. elections law. The miners counter that they not only lost their workday, but were told by mine management that attendance at the event was mandatory.
Murray Energy chief financial officer Robb Moore was blunt: “We’re talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone that’s related to the coal industry. I do not believe that missing an eight-hour day, when you put it into perspective, when you think about how critical this next election is, and how critical it is that we get someone in this office that supports coal, to give up eight hours for a career, I just don’t believe that there is anything negative about that,” he told WWVA talk radio.
Moore confirmed the event was mandatory for employees, but maintains no one was forced to attend.
Image has become critical in politics, but what should voters take from campaign images that actually turn out to be, at the least, stage-managed, and at the worst, faked? Should we simply let fraudulent visual images become fuel for continued armchair cynicism about the mechanics of politics, or should we actually use stage-managed images of support to direct our vote?
And in this instance, where the stage-managing is apparently separate from the Romney campaign itself, how can you punish the candidate for the actions of someone else? Furthermore, how could you possibly stop something like that from happening?
Realistically, you can’t. And that means that the truth filter has to rest somewhere else.Investigative journalists — especially those who work with reams of documents — operate under the simple caveat that “paper lies.”
That simply means that reading and interpreting something solely from paper sources does not absolve you of interviewing those involved, and asking straight-up whether the black-and-white words on the page actually mean what they appear to mean.
The same can be said for pictures, both colour and black and white.
Things are not always as they seem.
And even seeing something with your own eyes is no absolute guarantee of truth.