Fox News | Doctored images of a man holding an assault rifle (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

"Unethical": Fox News removes digitally altered images of police brutality protests in Seattle

"To use a photo out of context in a journalistic setting like that seems unethical"



Roger Sollenberger
June 15, 2020 11:26PM (UTC)

Fox News over the weekend removed misleading images from stories about protests against police brutality in Seattle from its website after it was revealed they had been digitally altered in a manner which made the scene appear dangerous.

The Seattle Times published a report Friday calling out multiple images from Fox News coverage of the police-free "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" (CHAZ) in the city.

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One photo illustration appearing on the Fox News homepage showed a masked man with an assault rifle and tactical vest standing in front of a sign reading, "You are now entering Free Cap Hill." The outlet did not originally disclose that the photo of the scene and the photo of the armed man had been spliced together using two different photos, which were taken more than a week apart.

The original photo, from Getty Images, shows the armed man in front of a car.

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He was digitally placed in front of the entrance sign.

The same image of the man appeared in at least one other image on Fox News' website, in front of a smashed retail storefront. According to The Times, it was also a combination of multiple images.

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"It is definitely Photoshopped," freelance photographer David Ryder, who took the original photo and published it through Getty images, told the outlet. "To use a photo out of context in a journalistic setting like that seems unethical."

Conservatives, including President Donald Trump, have attempted to sculpt the CHAZ storyline into a political flashpoint. Protesters converted the area into a street festival after police, who teargassed demonstrators, left the precinct in an effort to de-escalate tensions.

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Trump tweeted Thursday that "Radical Left Governor [J]ay Inslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don't do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped [sic] IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!"

The mayor told the president, "Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker."

Fox News on Friday used a photo of a man running through an urban inferno as a banner image for a group of stories about Seattle under the headline, "CRAZY TOWN || Seattle helpless as armed guards patrol anarchists' autonomous zone, shake down businesses: cops."

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The photo was unaltered, but it was an AP photo taken May 30 in St. Paul, Minn. Fox News later removed it.

The articles did not notify readers that the photos were altered, and it remains unclear who was responsible for the decision to do so. A Fox News spokesperson did not immediately respond to Salon's request for comment.

In an emailed statement, a Fox News spokeswoman told The Times: "We have replaced our photo illustration with the clearly delineated images of a gunman and a shattered storefront, both of which were taken this week in Seattle's autonomous zone."

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However, that statement itself was inaccurate. While the gunman was photographed that week — June 10 — the smashed storefront images were first published by Getty on May 30.

Fox News fully apologized Saturday in an editor's note accompanying its CHAZ coverage, acknowledging that it "did not clearly delineate" the photo illustrations, which it labeled a "collage." The site also apologized for falsely attributing the shot of the Minneapolis fire. "Fox News regrets these errors," the note said.

Talent at the conservative network have attempted to use the Seattle protests as a political wedge issue. For example, primetime host Tucker Carlson accused the people in the zone of advocating segregation. 

The network also reported an anecdotal claim from Seattle Assistant Chief of Police Deanna Nollette.

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"We've heard, anecdotally, reports of citizens and businesses being asked to pay a fee to operate within this area," Nollette said. "This is the crime of extortion."

Police Chief Carmen Best later corrected that statement. 

"We haven't had any formal reports of this occurring," she said, indicating the reports had come from rumors spread on social media.

Though the Seattle protests have at times been home to contentious scenes of unrest — including a cop filmed forcibly removing his partner's knee from someone's neck and a man filmed driving into a crowd of protesters and shooting a black man — the CHAZ street scene has been almost entirely peaceful, featuring musical and visual artists, free street food, concerts and movies.

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Best said she did not think the officers should have abandoned the precinct, a move which she claims has led to longer 911 response times.

Trump called demonstrators "domestic terrorists" over the weekend and threatened federal action unless local officials "take back" the area. He also falsely claimed that antifa forces had taken over the city.

"City officials have not interacted with 'armed antifa militants' at this site," a city spokesperson told CNN.


Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon.

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