A Tour of the World's Worst Photoshop Propaganda

A photo of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is only the latest installment

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When the Syrian Arab News Agency released an article yesterday on President Bashar al-Assad swearing in the new (and presumably more compliant) governor of the volatile province of Hama, The Guardian's photo expert, David McCoy, noticed something strange. The story's photo, which showed the two men awkwardly staring at one another (or Assad giving the governor his "directives," as SANA put it), appeared to be two pictures "merged to make it seem like the men are in the same room." If McCoy is right, Syria's state-run news agency would join a long line of state-run news agencies whose sloppy Photoshop jobs (or allegedly sloppy Photoshop jobs--the agencies rarely fess up) have undermined their propaganda efforts.

Let's start with the Assad photo, which you can find in high-resolution here. McCoy explains that if you focus on the floor, you'll notice that the right side of the picture "has been stretched downwards" to align with the left side, which isn't distorted. The two men aren't looking directly at one another, he notes, and "Assad appears to have had the edge detail on his hair smoothed out, in contrast to the harsh, overly sharpened edges visible elsewhere on his body." The Washington Post's photo editors add that one of Assad's shoes seems to be sticking out in front of the table leg, and throw around technical terms like "lasso tool" and "feathering." We'll let you just look at the picture.

Earlier this month, you may recall, we wrote about how China's Huili county government got in trouble for posting a photo of officials inspecting--nay, levitating above--a new highway (you can find one of the original photos, which apparently just didn't look as pretty, here).

Last year, we noted how a new book about Turkmenistan president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, featured blatantly doctored cover art.

One might reasonably assume that the book's publishers were going for a mash-up in the picture above. But, as Registan's Nathan Hamm pointed out when the book came out, the photo brought back memories of Turkmenistan's more egregious Photoshopping days of yore, when a seemingly animated President Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov appeared alongside then-Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Bushes.

Later that same year, Egypt's Al-Ahram showed then-President Hosni Mubarak walking on a red carpet ahead of President Obama and their Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian counterparts during Middle East peace talks at the White House. In the original photo, Mubarak was on the far left, trailing pretty much everyone and looking decidedly less powerful.

All this brings us to Iran, which has landed in hot water multiple times. In 2009, speculation spread on the web that the pro-government daily Kayhan had copied and pasted segments of the crowd at a rally for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in order to exaggerate the size of the gathering (the circles indicate where Photoshop's clone tool was allegedly used).

In 2008, Iran flexed its muscle by launching a series of missile tests. But as if that wasn't provocative enough, Sepah News, the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, added a fourth missile (second from right) to one of the photos it distributed to news outlets around the world, borrowing "elements from the smoke trail and dust clouds from two of the other missiles," according to AFP. To see what AFP is talking about, check out this New York Times version of the photo. The original photo is here.

While we imagine our tour could stretch rather far back in time (are there any Stalin-era photos on the web?), we'll end in 2007, when the blog Little Green Footballs accused Iran's Fars News Agency of Photoshopping U.S.-made weaponry that it claimed terrorists in southeastern Iran were using.

Update: Minyanville's Justin Rohrlich points us to these photos from North Korea's Korean Central News Agency, which are running this week under the heading, "Worthwhile Life under Care of Great Leader." Please share any other photos you think belong in this post.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.