Earlier this week, a bored resident of China's Huili county visited the local government's website on a lark and discovered something shocking: A lead story about a highway project in the countryside featured a photo (above) of three local officials hovering above an upgraded road, in what The Guardian would later call "one of the worst-doctored photographs in internet history." After the resident highlighted the blatant "Photoshop job" on a web forum, the county government yanked the photo and issued an apology, explaining that the photographer--a government employee who was now being disciplined--hadn't liked the look of his actual photos and decided to superimpose the officials on a different background instead, according to China Daily.
The government has posted one of the original photos, below, on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo (it's true that the road doesn't look as nice in this one). Chinese "netizens," meanwhile, have had a field day with the image, depicting the officials landing on the moon, hanging out with dinosaurs, and inspecting the road with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
But lest we think this is an isolated incident, it's worth pointing out that this isn't the first time Chinese officials have gotten in trouble for doctored photos. In 2006, hundreds of newspapers ran an award-winning photograph showing antelope galloping under a high-speed train in Tibet, helping diffuse concerns from environmentalists that China's new $4 billion Qinghai-Xizang railway would endanger the chiru, an endangered antelope species. Almost two years later, however, people started raising suspicions about the image when the photo appeared in Beijing's subway system (netizens wondered, for example, how the antelope could have been so calm). The photographer, Liu Weiqing, eventually admitted that he'd used Photoshop to stitch two photos together and resigned from the Daqing Evening News, as did his editor. Several government news outlets, meanwhile, apologized for running the photo, but it was never clear whether authorities had pressured Liu to doctor the image in an effort to win support for the rail project, according to The Wall Street Journal. Here's the image, from the EastSouthWestNorth blog: