What Happens When the Role of Photographs is Underestimated

German Avagyan


This isn’t the first time I’m writing about how a photo accompanying a story can demonstrate that the story is deceitful.

The “sensational” story flooding world media of a former CIA agent confessing to committing dozens of assassinations for the American government yesterday finally reached Armenian media. Local news outlets also swallowed the bait. 

Interestingly, local news site Tert.am, publishing the “news,” cited Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets as the source. 

tert.am rusScreenshot from the Russian version of Tert.am

But what remains unclear is Moskovskij Komsomolets‘s source.  

And so, retired CIA agent Normand Hodges on his deathbed repents and confesses that he killed Marilyn Monroe. The story published on Tert.am begins with the following sentence, which attracted my attention: “The data leak from the US regional press might explain the secret of Marilyn Monroe’s death.” 

It turns out that stories in the “US regional press” are published for a restricted group of people and, in fact, all the materials are released titled “Top Secret”. But due to the acumen of either Russian or Armenian journalists, the top secret material, it seems, was revealed. 

This sentence piqued my interest, but the photos accompanying the “sensational” story deepened my suspicions. It was unclear why a former CIA agent on the verge of death was handcuffed to his hospital bed. The many medical tubes and wires connected to him left no doubt that Hodges could not escape because he couldn’t live one minute without a medical ventilator. 

In such cases, what should any self-respecting news outlet do? That’s right: it should find the original source of the news and the photographs. 

After a few not very difficult actions on Google, I discovered that the photos have been “making the rounds” online for more than a year. They were first published by the Guardian on November 8, 2013, in an article on the situation of seriously or terminally ill prisoners in the UK.

GuardianThe Guardian story on dying UK prisoners

The man in the photograph is prisoner Michael Tyrrell, and the person who took the photograph is his daughter. Michael died the next day. Beneath the photo in the Guardian is the attribution: the photo belongs to the Tyrrell family. 

After discovering the real origin of the photograph, I realized it was naive to take the aforementioned “sensational” news seriously.

Network_discusses_the_fake_newsThe deceptive news was actively discussed online

I’m sure that prior to publication of this piece, several other Armenian news sites will manage to swallow the bait. 

P.S. In the Russian version, Tert.am cites Moskovskij Komsomolets (mk.ru) as the source, while in the Armenian version, it cites “Obozrevatel”. The sources of the Armenian press are unquestionable…

tert rusScreenshot from the Russian version of Tert.am

tert hayScreenshot from the Armenian version of Tert.am

German Avagyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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