As someone who not only reports news stories, but also consumes a ridiculous amount of news, I understand that it can be very difficult to discern what is real news and what is fake. Fake news takes on many different forms, but perhaps the most dangerous is the potential for intentionally misleading stories, pictures and videos. Take the whole intellectually dishonest social media narrative that the President Donald Trump’s administration is removing mailboxes around the country so people have to vote in person instead of mailing in their ballot for instance.
First, let me just say that if you're someone who is dead-set on having their vote count, why would you risk voting using a method where it’s not guaranteed that your vote will arrive on time to be counted? Maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, photojournalist Gary He posted a threat to Twitter concerning the topic of mailbox removals being used by other photogs to push a possibly false narrative.
He decided to look into the story since it’s been all leftists can talk about recently.
He’s explanation for much of the mailbox removals pointed him to a company called Hartford Finishing Inc. in Wisconsin. What is part of what they do? According to He, Hartford Finishing “confirmed that they have a government contract for the mailbox refurbishing.”
Here’s the first couple of tweets from He’s thread:
OK so everyone has seen the "viral" photo going around of the piles of mailboxes in Wisconsin being used as evidence that Trump is sabotaging USPS. Problem is, they have been there for years: Hartford Finishing Inc. powder coats and refurbishes the old mailboxes. (1/8) pic.twitter.com/HQpAprWxoK— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
When I called up Hartford Finishing, Inc., a woman on the phone confirmed that they have a government contract for the mailbox refurbishing and that they "get them from all over and make them look good again" (2/8)— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
He then went into further detail and called out Reuters news service and Reuters Pictures for “journalistic malpractice” for posting pictures of a pile of mailboxes that reside in the Hartford Finishing lot awaiting refurbishing, but only referring to the are where the mailboxes are as being in an “industrial lot.”
This is where I have to give some tough love to my friends at @reuterspictures. They sent a staff photog to these mailboxes. And then posted them to the wire labeling the site of the mailboxes as just an "industrial lot" when context is our entire job as journalists. (3/8) pic.twitter.com/FFTPODFXFR— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
To find this location on Google, you have to search for "Hartford Finishing". It's a side road, not like you can spot the mailboxes from a highway. The sign for the business is 20 feet away from the mailboxes. To omit all this from the caption is journalistic malpractice. (4/8) pic.twitter.com/DIvUTj9urb— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
The James Beard award-winner went so far as to call Reuters characterization of the mailbox photos as an “intentional omission.”
Let me be clear: the @reuterspictures photos are very good. And as stock art for "pile of mailboxes", it works. But @Reuters is one of the best news organizations in the world. And telling the full story and context is everything. This is an intentional omission. (5/8)— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
Especially since @Reuters is a wire service, other news orgs are going to use these pictures as evidence of Trump tampering with the USPS. When it's later revealed that it was just a place where mailboxes get refurbished, trust in news organizations is further eroded. (6/8)— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
He went on to suggest that Reuters Pictures “should issue a caption correction for every single one of these frames, and alert editors that have used that out of context.
Is having a photo go viral worth it if it's at the expense of journalistic integrity?? I think at the very least my friends at @reuterspictures should issue a caption correction for every single one of these frames, and alert editors that have used them out of context. (7/8)— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020
The United States Postal Service (USPS) Office of Inspector General issued an audit report in August 2016 on the “Collection Box Removal Process.” In the report, it was noted that from 2011 through 2016 “the number of collection boxes declined by more than 12,000” in the Eastern Area.
“Reasons for the removals included safety, multiple boxes at a location, and canceled contracts with contract postal units,” the report stated. “Other factors management considered for removing boxes included the volume of mail collected, the proximity of other publicly accessible collection points, and the needs of customers in the vicinity of the box.”
In a world where information is literally at your fingertips, it has become more and more difficult to determine what’s real or not.
For the non journalists out there: I get it, you're anxious about the election. And maybe there ARE shenanigans going on! But this is the wrong way to conduct journalism and why you don't run stories based on random info on social media without vetting the hell out of it. (8/8)— Gary He (@garyhe) August 17, 2020