BP’s Faked Photos

Often when a person or company does something bad, it’s most reasonable to assume that stupidity is the cause, rather than malicious intent. Some behaviour of course is both stupid and unethical. At BP, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference.

Everyone’s least-favourite oil company has now been found to have been posting faked photos on its website. (A small excerpt of one photo is above. Lots of others can be found online, including in various news reports on the story. Even at low resolution, you can see tell-tale signs of photo-alteration. The bits of brightness around both men’s heads is evidence of a sloppy cut-and-paste job. Also, the image on the screen shown at bottom-centre of the photo is slightly crooked.)

MSNBC tech blogger Wilson Rothman provides this good, brief summary:

A site called Americablog spotted a press photo of BP’s Houston command center, ostensibly taken on July 16. The image had quite visibly been Photoshopped — badly — to include more on-screen camera action.

Once word got out — the story was picked up by the Washington Post, where it was then spotted by the tech blog Gizmodo and others — BP ‘fessed up. A spokesman admitted that the image was altered, said that a photographer had inserted shots where the TV screens were blank, and provided the original image….

(Here’s the Washington Post version, by Steven Mufson: More doctored BP photos come to light)

Now, it’s worth noting that the changes to the photos are not actually misleading in any material way. Nothing important is hidden, and the faked photos don’t really tell any lies. The changes are basically cosmetic. (In a sense, the photos were merely enhanced to make them more authentic.) But as MSNBC’s Rothman points out, “Though the command center alteration doesn’t seem to be an attempt to hide facts or confuse the public, it heightens skepticism for the company at a time when it should be trying to build trust.” And as WP’s Mufson points out, “While the changes were minor, the embarrassment was major, coming at a time when the oil giant is trying to convince the American public that it is being open and transparent about the oil spill.”

Both Rothman and Mufson are correct as far as P.R. goes. Being caught in even a trivial fib is pretty bad for BP at this point. But what about ethics? Are the faked photos a sign that we generally can’t trust BP? Or rather, since there’s pretty little trust for BP in the first place at this point, does the revelation that they faked these pics give us new, ethically-relevant information about the company? Probably not.

Perhaps most disturbing about this whole fiasco is BP’s attempt to blame the (unnamed) photographer involved. As some have already pointed out, the photoshopping is so clumsy that it’s hard even to believe that it was done by a professional photographer. But at any rate, passing the buck and blaming the photographer is the wrong way to go. If there’s anything the public wants from BP now even more than honesty, it is evidence of willingness to take responsibility.

3 comments so far

  1. southwerk on

    Nice shooting! jp

  2. […] second MacDonald posting concerns British Petroleum’s faked photographs. MacDonald implies that he has been willing to […]

  3. vijay on

    Haha !!

    BP – from Beyond Petroleum to Beyond Photoshop !!!!

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