A TALE OF TWO PHOTOS….A couple of days ago I posted two photos of the statue toppling in Baghdad. One is the scene on TV, a closely cropped shot that seems to show a large crowd, while the other is a wide angle shot posted on IndyMedia that shows the square virtually empty, with no more than a hundred Iraqis present.

Josh Chafetz today prints an analysis from reader M.D. suggesting that it’s the wide angle shot that’s deceptive, not the television shots. To make a long story short, M.D. says three things:

  • In the wide angle shot, the statue is obviously gone, so this picture was taken after the statue was toppled.

  • A CNN view from before the statue was toppled shows people in the background. They aren’t there in the wide angle shot, so clearly the wide angle shot was taken after the statue was toppled.

  • This CNN view of the toppling in progress shows a bright sky. The wide angle shot shows a darker sky, so it must have been taken after the statue was toppled.

I don’t really have any big axe to grind here, but the evidence M.D. presents is pretty iffy. Clearly, yes, the statue is gone, so the wide angle picture was taken after it came down. But how long after?

The people in the background would have run across the street as soon as the statue hit the ground, so that doesn’t mean much, and the color of the sky is also hard to draw conclusions from. The reddish cast in the wide angle photo is indeed suspicious, but color cast is notoriously tricky in photographs, especially in the vicinity of sunset, and the statue toppling happened 40 minutes before sunset. Likewise, the whitish sky in the TV image doesn’t mean much either. TV cameras are extremely light sensitive and show a much brighter sky than the human eye sees (check out a televised golf tournament that’s running late someday to see this for yourself).

None of this is very definitive, so it’s still possible that the wide angle photo was taken after the crowd had dispersed. The real question is whether the statue is on the ground in the wide angle photo, and it’s hard to tell. If it is, then it’s an honest picture. If it’s not, then it means it was taken long after the statue had been dragged completely away by the crowd.

What’s really frustrating about all this is what I was originally complaining about: the role of the media. None of us should have to be doing half-assed amateur analysis of this, but a moderately thorough search of news sites shows nothing except closely cropped photos of the scene. This series from the BBC is about the best I could find, and #8 in the series (shown at right) pretty clearly shows a group of no more than 100-200 Iraqis standing around the statue as it fell (you can see the edge of the crowd, so that’s probably all there was).

Bottom line: I’m still inclined to think that the TV shots (and everyone else’s) were deliberately cropped to make the crowd seem bigger, either for propaganda purposes or simply because photo editors generally like dramatic, closely cropped photos. On the other hand, I can’t see the statue in the wide angle Indymedia photo, so it might not be honest either. Or maybe the picture is just fuzzy and I can’t see it through the crowd. I dunno.

But why do I have to guess? Why doesn’t our media just tell us?

If anybody knows the source of the Indymedia photo, let me know and I’ll check into this further.

UPDATE: Ben Longman has some screenshots of the BBC coverage of the statue toppling as well as some real-time commentary on his blog. He emails:

Now it could be that the soldiers surrounding the square weren’t letting anyone through, but your Indymedia shot is not far off, even if half the people had left. The BBC did pan in and out during quiet periods because it turned around a couple of times to look at some ministry in flames. The crowd was always quite modest.

UPDATE: It looks like (a) the IndyMedia photo was deceptive, but (b) the crowd is still probably no more than 200-300 people. The definitive analysis is here.