Steel City Cowboy

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

USA Today Uses the Sharpen Filter!

Update: Michelle Malkin says I'm defending USA Today. From charges of bias in this particular case: yes. From charge of being technological poopy-heads: no. This is a known issue with low res imagery and sharpen, and they should take that into account when creating their graphics pipeline. End Update.

Hmmm. A teapot-tempest is brewing regarding USA Today possibly maliciously manipulating a picture of SecState (and personal Presidential favorite) Condoleeza Rice to make her look eeeeevil.

This would fall under the partisan bickering category, about which I said I wouldn't be writing, except that this is partially an IT issue, too. Well, at the least it's a graphics issue, which is wedded to IT in my mind, and in which I hold a bit of expertise.

First, the images in question:

The "undoctored" image.

How it appeared according to USA Today.

Ooooo. She looks pretty evil in the USA Today picture, doesn't she? They must have done it on purpose! How could something like this be an accident!?

From a technical standpoint, it can be.

One of my standard tricks for improving the punch of an image -- if the whole thing is too low quality or low resolution to really withstand any kind of serious manipulation -- is to make a mask around the eyes and nose, then sharpen them. I've done it on countless pictures of models where they needed an appearance of more contrast, but the original images would have looked worse had I fooled around with them overall. Knowing that people tend to focus on the triangle in the face from eyes to chin, I sharpen that crucial area, and it makes the whole picture look significantly better.

So what, you say? Well, look what happens to Ms. Rice when I selectively sharper her triangle:

Whoa. It's not exactly what USA Today came up with, but it's very close. If I had time to play with the Unsharp Mask filter (another digital imagery pipeline standard), I could probably find a setting that would mimic the offending image almost exactly. This kind of outcome is not unusual when using the Sharpen filter on relatively low resolution images, which is why I recognized immediately. For those of you in the audience with Photoshop backgrounds, here's what I did:

1. Took two seconds to paint quick-mask over face triangle.
2. Ran standard Sharpen filter.

That's it. USA Today may use something other than Photoshop in their pipeline, which would account for the slight variation, and even if they aren't, there are several ways to sharpen that would each produce a slightly different result. To say that the photo was "manipulated" is technically true, but by that criteria, you can say that every single photo you see that was digitally taken has likewise been "manipulated." Most photographic content undergoes at least one level of digital sharpening somewhere along the way.

I have a lot easier time believing that some low-level photo stooge said "This picture looks like crap. I'll just do the sharpen thing to it and put it in the pipeline," than that someone farted around with a photo to make it look that ridiculously bad and hoping no one would notice, while at the same time hoping that it would subliminally infect us with a "Condi is Satan" meme.

What you're seeing in USA Today's image is not malice, but just a bad sharpening artifact. In fact, it's entirely possible that human eyes did not even review that image before it appeared on the web.

To be fair to the critics, a few questions remain. Did it appear in print? If so, what did it look like? But if this is a web-only picture (and a lack of higher res imagery leads me to believe it is), then this is really a non-issue. Someone did a standard photo-prep procedure, probably hit Command S-W (save and close) without even thinking about it, and out it went.

Next scandal, please. What I'd really like to see is someone Photoshopping selected bits o' porn onto that shot of Cindy Sheehan getting carried off by the cops. You know the one I mean. Oh yeah.

Update: While this may have been malicious, think about it for a second. That sort of thing would have to be done subtly. If you paint big horns (or big scary eyes) on someone whose visage everyone is already fairly familiar with, you'll get caught, and look stupid. The picture looks so unnatural that if someone did do it at the behest of their scheming leftist masters, they should be fired forthwith for blantantly overplaying their hand and exposing the conspiracy.

In my experience, faulty systems, and personal inattention and laziness will easily account for almost 90% of the badness we experience on a day-to-day basis. There's some true malice out there in the MSM, but this ain't it.

Second Update: The theory has been advanced that this was possibly some sort of prankster (or bored person) on staff who did something they thought was funny, and that it made it into "print." I've seen crap like this happen: someone does a photo (or text) edit as a joke, but the intended target doesn't see it, or someone goes out sick, and it makes it into print and then everyone's screwed. Definitely credible. Also, I've been able to make the bottoms of the irises go to points by using Photoshop CS2's Smart Sharpen filter. So, my final (forked theory) is that either someone was being mean/silly and it made it past the editors (shock!) or that someone was doing repetitive edits, got a bad result and moved onto the next image without noticing. Then it got past the editors (shock!).

Final Update: USA Today responds. Here's what they said:

Editor's note: The photo of Condoleezza Rice that originally accompanied this story was altered in a manner that did not meet USA TODAY's editorial standards. The photo has been replaced by a properly adjusted copy. Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice's face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.

From this we definitively learn that they don't this via an automated process (pipeline), which was a possibility I had mentioned. This seems like a pretty straight up cop to me. However, I have to wonder how long this would have gone unnoticed (forever!) if no one who cared (conservatives) made mention of it. So, while this wasn't editorial malice on the part of USA Today, the question remains: was it a photo-editor who sucks, someone with an axe to grind, or someone who thought they were doing something funny and then crapped when they saw it on the web? Just like the age-old question of "How licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?" The world may never know.

Edited to update image links for archive pages.


  • At 10/26/2005 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said… are deluded!!

  • At 10/26/2005 11:44 AM, Blogger Roland said…

    Regarding what, exactly? If you're referring to the fact that I'm deluding by still watching The Amazing Race and believing that it will get better, even though it's been lame this season, then you are correct!

  • At 10/26/2005 12:02 PM, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said…

    Okay. You've demonstrated that USA Tody isn't crooked. They're stupid.

    That was (one of) CBS' excuses after Rathergate.

    It is not reassuring.

  • At 10/26/2005 12:20 PM, Anonymous Stephen said…

    Why do these "technical problems" usually only happen to Republicans? When you can present an answer to that question than many of us on the right will start believing that these "technical problems" are mere mistakes, rather than obvious manipulations. Waiting for the Hillary is evil photo, or Boxer is devil picture. Let me know when you find it.

  • At 10/26/2005 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    if the Washington Times did this to Maxine Waters we'd here RACISTS from all the kool aid drinking moonbats.

  • At 10/26/2005 12:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    a problem with your theory... the true photo looks better.

  • At 10/26/2005 12:35 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    Right. The point is that in this case, it wasn't malice, as so many seem to think, but technical silliness coupled with editorial/procedural laziness. Why don't we see this with leftist politicos as often (or ever)? Because the editors of these pubs care about them in a way that they don't care about non-leftists, and go over their stuff with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they always look good.

    Folks who think this was on purpose still have failed to address the "obviousness" defense. This was a mistake/procedural/automated error that slipped through because of inbred biases.

    And stop implying I'm a leftist, or I'll come over to your house and make you listen to me read the last two years of my RKBA and anti-tax essays.

  • At 10/26/2005 12:52 PM, Anonymous Chris said…

    From 13 years of experience in photo retouching I'd say that you're wrong. If it was a sharpening filter, then why are all of her moles, skin blemishes and wrinkles softened or removed? I would like to see you fiddle with the "unsharp mask" filter for a few hours and see if you come up with any arrangement or knobs that makes the whites of her eyes totally white while softening all her other features.

    I don't know if this was done maliciously. I don't care. I see it as a very unskilled retouching job. I think there we might agree. It makes me laugh knowing that someone payed for this work.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:02 PM, Anonymous John Benson said…

    The issue is ETHICS. What has happened to USA Today's ethics?

    If the problem is a simple PhotoShop mask issue (which I still strongly doubt), then why didn't the editor issue an apology the following day?

    Question: There are plenty of examples of photo bias of conservatives. Where are the similar "masking issues" with photos of Hillary or others on the left-side?

  • At 10/26/2005 1:03 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    It makes me laugh, too. And I've been doing commercial retouching for at least a decade. Note that I said I masked the eyes/nose area before applying the sharpen in my example, and most likely they did, too.

    I've had a stack of images on which I had to perform a set of procedures that are custom enough that you can't just assign it an action, but that are repetitive enough that soon you're just doing an "Open->mask->sharpen->save->close" without thinking about it, or even noticing what you're working on.

    I've seen worse crap than this go out the door of shops I've worked in (but not by my hands, of course). It was always due to people zoning out while they worked.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:04 PM, Anonymous John Sexton said…

    Roland, all you've proven with this is that the offending picture was manipulated with photoshop, something which Malkin and others had already stipulated was the case.

    I've been using Photoshop since version 3. If you look carefully at your version, you'll notice that the sharpening has produced artifacts on the face that are not present in the AP/USA today version. The filtering done to this photo appears to only have been applied to the eyes, and yet the person who did the work apparently wasn't bothered by the B-movie outcome.

    Does anyone else recall the AP photo of Bush I that appeared the week before the 92 election? It showed Bush getting off a the presidential helicopter. Behind him, painted on the fuesalage, was an orange arrow that read "danger." The shot was composed so that the arrow pointed directly to his head. Another accident, Roland? Get real.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:05 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    john benson: As I've said already, it's a simple technical issue that was not noticed because of inattention due to institutional and individual leftist bias. Which calls their ethics into question, as you note. My original points were a counter to the people claiming that this was a deliberate attempt to make Dr. Rice look bad.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:13 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    john sexton: I am sorry that I'm not real. I will try really hard to Get Real. Is that like "Got milk?"

    Sharpening eyes-only is a common practice. Someone stupid oversharpened them. Someone else who doesn't give a second glance at pictures of Pols they don't love let it through.

    And seeing as neither of us has a time machine, we'll probably never know for sure. Stupidity or malice? I've encountered a lot of stupidity in my life, and a little bit of true malice. This smells like the former.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:18 PM, Blogger Timbeaux said…

    You're probably right, but if you are I think it's instructive to note what a reputation for bias and dishonesty will get you in the reporting business. At some point it stops mattering if you are actually trying to tweak perceptions, it becomes the default opinion that you are.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:19 PM, Blogger Timbeaux said…

    Oh, and that point has long since past for a majority of news consumers...

  • At 10/26/2005 1:24 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    Me too. I haven't cracked open an MSM newspaper or TV news program for almost two years now.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    well, USA Today may have a rep as a piece of crap, but not neccessarily a leftist piece of crap.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:42 PM, Blogger rorochub said…

    Did anyone look at the blown up pictures? Actually you can see it in the regular ones. The nose and mouth were both touched up as well. Not much, but definitely different in the updated picture. The nose appears bigger as do the lips.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If your IT explanation is correct, doesn't it lend even more credibility to the opinion that USAToday purposely used a photo that made Ms. Rice look evil. I am responsible for decision about what I use. If the IT produces bad results, I have a greater responsibility to avoid using something that misrepresents.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:50 PM, Anonymous nonc0mpliant said…

    Thank you Roland for applying some common sense to this ridiculous "story".

  • At 10/26/2005 1:59 PM, Blogger Conan The Republican said…

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 10/26/2005 1:59 PM, Anonymous bbbustard said…

    It's really refreshing that somone is trying to be reasonable in these days of poison politics. Thank You.

  • At 10/26/2005 2:01 PM, Blogger Conan The Republican said…

    Roland, you just hate all things related in any way to Geo. Bush, that's all. Man, you commie-libs are the most awesome intellectual contortionists I've EVER encountered. The hoops you'll jump thru just to make a Republican look bad. You and I both know that the left-wing Commie-lovin', America-hating, terrorist-embracing, ACLU-huggin' media will do ANYTHING it can to bring down Geo. Bush, and here's a Sterling example. It was maliciously done, and you know it. Get a CLUE, man. Conan has spoken...

  • At 10/26/2005 2:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I do want Condi to (run & )win in '08 and I don't believe USA Today was malicious. These digital pics get goofy around the eyes all the time. Let's stick to the issues. Let's dilute the kool-ade, dial back the rhetoric and keep it conservative!

  • At 10/26/2005 2:19 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    conan - if you're one of my friends who's trying to be funny, then Ha! Give me a call later, and let me know it was you so I can unload the Makarov.

    If you're not, then call me some time. You sound like fun. Have you read anything else I've ever written? I'm a libertarian Republican, dude.

    I'm also personal friends with Katuman, and he still has his Sword That Conquers All. He keeps it hanging up in his bathroom, just beside the Barbarian Strength Prozac. He beat you once before, and I'm sure he can do it again. Don't make me call him.

    And just in case you're serious and as odd as you seem, I'm buying two extra boxes of 20 gauge slugs tonight.

  • At 10/26/2005 2:25 PM, Blogger ToeKnee said…

    Roland wrote:
    Well, at the least it's a graphics issue, which is wedded to IT in my mind, and in which I hold a bit of expertise.

    Oh, really? Then why do you continually refer to the 'sharpen' filter? Anyone reading past page 5 in any Photoshop book knows that 'sharpen' is the sure way to mess up a photo. "Unsharp Mask" is what every pro I've ever read recommends to sharpen photos.
    I am a mid-level Photoshopper having used it for 10 years (the more you learn, the more you realize you have yet to learn). This looks to me like an intentional hack job by a graphics hack. Not "ordered" by anyone, but certainly not "ordered retracted" as soon as it was pointed out, either.

  • At 10/26/2005 2:38 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    I used the sharpen filter because it takes an instant, and I invested minimal time into making the image. If an image I'm working on needs a quick overall pop, I hit it with Sharpen, because it's faster than setting parameters in UM. I give the image a once-over. If the Sharpen filter produces ugly artifacts (brings up noise in shadow areas, highlights textures too much), I go back and spend some time getting just the right setup with UM. Sharpen isn't a sure way to mess up a photo, but it can be if you're not paying attention.

    Unfortunately, I only made it to page 2 in the Photoshop book. When TPTB found out I wasn't "real" enough, they took it from me.

  • At 10/26/2005 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I guess it's pretty funny. Oh well. When you can't come up with decent, correct and uncorrupted news you have to make it up as you go. I don't see why a picture would be any different.
    USA Today is 1/2 a step above The National Enquirer in content and correctness.
    Oh well. Kudos to the media bottom feeders who cam up with this childish idea.

  • At 10/26/2005 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Agreed - it definitely looks like a dodge. Roland, take a few eyedropper readings on the whites of her eyes, then tell me how sharpening, whether through sharpen or USM can get those eyeballs whiter'n Visine. Now, if they were dodged, then the viperesque triangle shape was also intentional. No conspiracy, just some unsupervised a-hole who deserves to be canned (like the MSM doesn't have many of those).

  • At 10/26/2005 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Get in the game!!! Giving the picture some "punch" would sharpen the entire image - not just her eyes. This is a deliberate and conscious manipulation of the image.

    Its no different than the intentional cropping of pictures to deliver the intended result, rather than the photographers field of view.

  • At 10/26/2005 2:59 PM, Blogger Dan Sherman said…

    Two things... 1) I believe it was some idiot's way of blowing off steam who hates Republicans. But what else is new?

    2) I think Roland's a pretty funny guy. I love your quips here in the comments. :-)


  • At 10/26/2005 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Using the USM filter on PS does NOT automatically turn round eyes into tringle shaped demonic pupils. Give me a break. This change took some time and effort on someone's part. No "accident" here.

  • At 10/26/2005 3:01 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    anonymous - possible that it was one of those yahoos that pull a "joke", not thinking anyone will notice or that it'll never make it past the editors. I've seen people get canned over stuff that they thought "no one would ever notice."

    One thing everyone assumes is that the image in question is a derivative of the "original" that was found, where the odds are that they were both derivatives of a raw file that we have never seen, and probably won't. Note what I see as more jpeg compression artifacts on the snakes-eyes image than the other, as well as a slightly tighter crop.

    Hmmm - I'm able to get the whites as white with USM and a tight mask on the eyes, but I can't get the iris to narrow quite as much at the base as they did. Just tried something - Photoshop CS2 Smart Sharpen seems to reproduce the effect almost exactly, but only if you mask out only the eyes.

  • At 10/26/2005 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    looks like USAToday spends all their art budget on the clever charts and graphs instead of sending their artists to Photoshop classes.

  • At 10/26/2005 3:10 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    Thanks, Dan!

    As for anonymous who said it took a lot of time and effort to do this, it took me a grand total of fifteen seconds to mask the eyes and apply Smart Sharpen. That's not material to whether it was malicious or not, but your point of fact is incorrect.

  • At 10/26/2005 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


  • At 10/26/2005 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In the end it's not about the ethical legitimacy of photo touch-ups it's about perception. USA Today, has a well known and rabid hatred of the Bush administration. Whether intentional or not, they got caught screwing the context of a photograph.

    If USA Today made a "legitimate" mistake, they should be adult and apologize. They haven't. I wonder why.

  • At 10/26/2005 3:56 PM, Blogger Nocoen said…

    The photo is problematic for the MSM as the photo must have been approved before it was posted. Someone thought that what was done was okay.

    That is the problem. There is nothing wrong with the original version. Why did it need to be enhanced? That is the question that USA Today owes its readers an answer to, other than some drivel about not meeting editorial standards...

    Whoever did this needs to be pounding the pavement looking for another job. If they keep their job, they can do this again.

    USA Today also needs to publically apologize to the SecState. What they did was personally unflattering and completely uncalled for, not to mention professionally wrong.

  • At 10/26/2005 4:02 PM, Anonymous StraightUp said…

    Why do these "technical problems" usually only happen to Republicans?

    I'd imagine because Republicans run every branch of government. There are going to be a lot more pictures of them.

    There's also the problem with selection bias - you're much less likely to look at or pay attention to stuff like this if it happens to Democrats.

  • At 10/26/2005 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ROLAND WIENER, Show me just "one" picture where USATODAY was a technical poopyhead with Hillary Clinton's photo. Your kids must be ashamed of you.

  • At 10/26/2005 4:31 PM, Anonymous Scott said…

    "I'd imagine because Republicans run every branch of government. There are going to be a lot more pictures of them."

    Stop using your imagination and do some research. Show me one "unintentional" manipulation of a liberal Democrat's photograph as a starter.

    As for the "obviousness" argument: what about Dan Rather's file gate. That was exposed within a couple of days. The "obviousness" did not stop them. Besides, the press has altered Hillary Clinton's quotes to correct her gaffe. That correction was "obvious" since she was on audio tape, obviously saying something different. The intention to to create an impression among readers for an immediate emotional reaction. They don't care whether bloggers find out. The readers aren't going to research everything. Besides, the readers will forget about it by next week. The emotional reaction stays longer.

  • At 10/26/2005 4:35 PM, Blogger ToeKnee said…

    ah, USA Today has pulled the photo and posted a comment:

  • At 10/26/2005 4:43 PM, Anonymous Occupant said…

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the nostrils. In the original, they look kind of funny and slit-like, but in the altered version there's been an attempt to make them more natural and rounded. That would seem to point towards incompetence rather than malice.

  • At 10/26/2005 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Here we go again.

    Remember those 10 days between the time that the Bush National Guard letter was outed as a fake and the day CBS finally issued a retraction? Every liberal I knew was doing incredible intellectual contortions trying to explain away the superscripted 'th' and cling to their Bush-the-draft-dodger myth.

    Now once again the left is trying to find a way, any way, to explain away clearly demonstrated MSM bias.

    The left's seven step program:

    0. "It's real"
    1. "Well, it could be real..."
    2. "Well, it's accurate for the most part..."
    3. "Well, it could be an honest mistake..."
    4. "Well, it could be just some low-level screw up that slipped through..."
    5. "Well, it's just a coincidence that it's a Republican, again..."
    6. "Well, it's not representative of the MSM as a whole..."
    7. "Well that's old news, what's really important is..."

  • At 10/26/2005 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Another Liberal hack mouthpiece. Steel City Cowgirl, get a life and stop making excuses for the left.

  • At 10/26/2005 5:36 PM, Anonymous Jersey Dave said…

    I'd love to see her "triangle."

  • At 10/26/2005 5:52 PM, Anonymous Larry Brewer said…

    Why would a photo need to be "sharpened" to appear in freaking newsprint? As if the technical quality would even be appreciated.

  • At 10/26/2005 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Didn't they make the conscious decision to go with "oopsy" photo? If this were a right-wing paper and the photo were of Jesse Jackson this would be a big story in the mainstream press. It might get some play on Fox but little else.

  • At 10/26/2005 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    First, thank you for your explanation. Fair's fair, and we have enough to cast stones at the msm without needing to do so over "innocent" errors.

    In this case I accept your explanation. But I'd still like to see one time, one single example, when the msm did this to Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Susan Estrich, or any other of the Clinton women. Just one example???

    In the law, we call that circumstantial evidence. Not as compelling as direct evidence (of malice), but oftentimes more reliable.


  • At 10/26/2005 6:55 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    ITA that there have been many instances of MSM malice against Republicans and conservatives in general. One of my great aggravations is the way the MSM treats firearms and gun owners. It's downright prosecutorial.

    I just don't think this is an instance of malice. It could be, but my gut tells me it isn't. Once again the reason you won't see this happen to St. Hill (named after the mountain climber!) is because journos mostly love her and look out for her. Everyone else has to suffer the mistakes that a normal amount of inattention brings.

    BTW, for you weinies who call me a liberal hack/etc., for the sweet love of Pete, did you read anything else I wrote before farting in the general direction of your keyboards? Just one example from last year: when high priest Dan found out that EVERYONE could read the Scriptures now.

  • At 10/26/2005 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You Sir are atempting to defend the obvious, an attempt to defame the Secretary of state of the United States and not an error in photography. So that makes you a moron and once a moron always a moron.

  • At 10/26/2005 7:11 PM, Anonymous mcd said…

    trust me, i work at a newspaper and wingnuts on both sides email, call and write to complain about how "their" photos have been manipulated, etc.
    all photos have to been toned and sharpened in order to be printed in a newspaper. it's a result of a lot of things, including press gain (see subtractive color and 4-color printing if you want to learn more). if you don't tone and sharpen them, condi winds up flat and purple in print -- and that wouldn't do.
    in addition, in order to better the financial bottom line, most newspapers using computer programs to process their photos -- cheaper than paying someone. the drawback is that they apply the same logarithm rotely to every photo. that's a pretty big assumption since no two photos are alike.
    sometimes it just doesn't work. here is an example where the bottom photo is the processed one:
    doesn't mean the media is against you.
    the real question is why the "doctored" photo looks even more doctored on drudge.

  • At 10/26/2005 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bereft of arguments, the standard tactic of the left is insults, deception and propaganda.

    NY Times are deceivers

  • At 10/26/2005 7:34 PM, Anonymous Jack Marshall said…

    Roland: thanks for some analytical calm in the face of hysteria and paranoia. I'm an ethicist, and I track this stuff, and the vast majority of the time such things are the result of, as you say, carelessness and incompetence rather than malice. All the rational evidence,including your dead-on "horns" comment, would suggest to a neutral observor that someone made a mistake in sharpening (NOT altering!) an image. The only thing unethical about what happened is that it shows lack of care and competence.
    The real story is that so many Americans are immersed in ideological hate that they interpret the most trivial goof as some kind of armed combat. Sad and alarming. Reminds me of the Woody Allen bit in Annie Hall where his Holacaust obsessed character wonders if a guy is anti-Semetic because he keeps saying, "Did you...?" so it sounds like "Did JEW...".

  • At 10/26/2005 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Even if the Rice photo was a mistake, one quick look is all it takes to see that it is unacceptable. Do you think that USA Today staffers don't look at their own site? Or look at photos before they post them? Get real! This is more of the mainstream media chipping away at anything Bush, right or Republican.

  • At 10/26/2005 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Take it from another IT guy who has sharpened a few thousand pics in his life (sadly in my case mostly property pics, not models) - you look at your own work. Even if this process was somewhat "automated", someone saw this and OK'ed it. You are far to quick, or naive, to attribute this to anything but petty malice. Further, pictures are information, information is currency of media. They need to be more careful. They need to do better.

  • At 10/26/2005 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sharpen error ... COME ON are you an idiot or what. cant you see the forest for the trees.......

    Blame it on Photoshop, not the left!!!!


  • At 10/26/2005 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Nice try, Roland.

  • At 10/26/2005 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Pathetic, you and USA Today are the dinosaur media, your meteor has arrived.

  • At 10/27/2005 12:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There were several problems with the use of the photo. It's not from the event covered in the story. CNN had photos from the actual event. The image was selected and then enhanced to match the tone of the story, which was to convey Rice as a warmonger who would deny that the war could continue another 10 years (in response to a very arbitrary question). Finally, an alternate photo of Rice by the same photographer and from the same photo shoot was used in a USA Today story a couple of days earlier that was NOT retouched in the same evil way. That's three strikes. USA Today has been busted out.

  • At 10/27/2005 12:30 AM, Anonymous Confused... said…

    Why are people protesting so much?

    Condi is ugly with or without the digital enhancements, and people please, if y'all think she looks possesed in that shot, guess what? Not much difference between the two...

    Basically people think Condi looks possesed. Malkin is an idiot. Why does she hate Condi?

  • At 10/27/2005 2:05 AM, Anonymous John Sexton said…

    Roland, thanks for hanging in there to respond to people all day, including me. Thanks also for updating the piece with the current facts even though they somewhat undercut your initial theory of how this happened.

    I agree with you that this was likely the work of one juvenile dope who thought it would be funny to turn Dr. Rice into a monster a few days before Halloween. Still, if the MSM wasn't chock full of liberal twits like the person who did this, this sort of thing wouldn't keep happening. To paraphrase Goldberg, no conspiracy is necessary so long as the MSM are all birds of a feather.

  • At 10/27/2005 3:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yes, lets use the sharpen image feature to make a photo look worse, even when no sharpening was originally needed.

    I took a very simple newspaper class in highschool, there's one basic principle that you use for a photo - try to make it look better. Not worse.

    I don't have to be partisan to realize that the strings of people that this photo had to go through (in journalism, its generally a very hard thing to overlook a photo like that) are completely incompetent and should try their luck with the tabloids... or are outrageously biased against whoever the picture is of.

    But I guess, if you really don't like C.R... then you can find any justification you want.

  • At 10/27/2005 4:40 AM, Anonymous Sam said…

    There is an interesting analysis of the photoshopping at my site that you might be interested in.

  • At 10/27/2005 7:21 AM, Anonymous DL said…

    You've got to be kidding! As a long time Photoshop user and a lot of portraits under my belt, I say uyou shoddyu technical defense stinks. Just look at her neck~ It changes not a bit, so any normal contrast enhancement or fill flach wasn't the culprit-just deliberate photo-deceit. She should sue!

  • At 10/27/2005 7:31 AM, Blogger Roland said…

    Last response in the comments here, unless someone says something extraordinarily interesting or ludicrous...

    To folks who go on about how someone HAD TO HAVE SEEN THIS and how IT WAS SO OBVIOUS and about the MYRIAD LAYERS OF EDITING AND CHECKS AND BALANCES IN JOURNALISM THIS HAD TO PASS THROUGH, well, not so fast, there Speed Racer. I'd be willing to bet that not one person here knows how many steps and people are between the "Get a shot of Rice for this story and make it look good" order and some low level yahoo putting it in place. Exactly how closely does USA Today editorially monitor web-only images? I don't know. You don't either. My guess is: "Not very much." They probably have a web "engineer" doing this sort of thing.

    Also, don't underestimate the power of people to make things look like crap and not realize it. I've seen, literally, thousands (if not tens of thousands) of pieces of artwork cross my desk. A lot of it looked like crap, and worse than the picture in question. But, the designers/artists thought it looked grand, and so did the person paying the bill. The point is that you cannot count on people to realize they've done a bad job.

    To conspiracy folks: It's called emergent behavior. Look it up. John Sexton nicely pointed to the "birds of a feather" statement. When you have all the leftist journos believing mostly the same thing, the overall system shows a certain, seemingly intelligent, behavior. From that, you assume that there must be an overall intelligence behind the behavior of the system, i.e. a conspiracy. In reality, systems with enough actors and simple rules regularly demonstrate intelligence on a full-system level without discreet overall guidance.

    To the "you're a moron" folks: I'm guessing that you basically read the post title and maybe a couple sentences. Apparently, the day I was playing hookie from "not being a moron" class was the day that you were skipping "how to have manners" class. Really. Would you walk into someone's house you didn't know and say stuff like that? Yikes.

    Two things for you:

    1. There are lollipops in a jar by the door. I usually only let kids have them, but I hope you snagged one too. I make exceptions for the mentally handicapped.

    2. You know how you think people are only joking when they mention your smell? They're not. And it's directly related to that itching you've been feeling in your parts. Have a doctor take a look, and maybe the loneliness will start to go away.

    To the "you're a commie" folks: Gak. Honestly. What you've done is to draw a conclusion from extremely sparse evidence. If you had read anything else I had said, even in the comments or updates, it should be clear that I'm not now a communist, nor have I ever been. To put it in terms you can understand, it would have been like your first girlfriend concluding that you were not a human being, but in fact a needle factory, due entirely to her discovery on you of a certain appendage that resembled a short, very very thin, needle.

    And to everyone: thanks for reading! My pageviews were a full order of magnitude greater yesterday than usual.

  • At 10/27/2005 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If you compare your photoshop image to the edited version that was published, there is one striking difference. The irises of the eyes are considerably smaller on the published image, adding that beady eyed look beyond the runaway bride eye-popping look created by brightening the whites. While repeated contrast/brightness/curve adjustments and sharpening and other filters might do this, that is considerably more manipulation that is needed to simply brighten and sharpen a face.

    Even if it was an accident, which seems improbable, couldn't the person manipulating the image simply LOOK at it to see it was bogus. Imagine if they had done that to either Rev. Al or Rev. Jesse...

  • At 10/27/2005 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Michelle Malkin says I'm defending USA Today. From charges of bias in this particular case: yes. "


    "Because the editors of these pubs care about them in a way that they don't care about non-leftists, and go over their stuff with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they always look good."

    Ok, Roland, which is it. Is this a case of USA Today's bias or not? You say it is not, but then provice evidence it is.


  • At 10/27/2005 11:00 AM, Anonymous Bobby Dragulescu said…

    "Why don't we see this with leftist politicos as often (or ever)? Because the editors of these pubs care about them in a way that they don't care about non-leftists, and go over their stuff with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they always look good."

    Okay, I'd like to step back from all the speculation for a minute and say that by your own admission, we are back to square one!

    You are clearly stating that Liberal politicians get their visual representations treated differently than Conservative ones. If a photo retoucher is first going to make a decision on how good of a job to do based on a person's political alignment, then that's something that definitely implicates malice. You see, if one side gets a "fine-toothed comb to make sure they always look good," then by reverse implication, the other side gets a hack treatment to make sure they always look less good. Around here we call that bad.

    Um, case closed? Yeah, case closed.

  • At 10/27/2005 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sir - You seem to be one of the most intelligent people I have ever read !
    Your reasoning is a wonderful respite
    from normal right wing spin .
    I think I love you !

  • At 10/27/2005 11:23 AM, Blogger Roland said…

    Important distinction I have to make, based on several of the last comments. You're right to point out a discrepancy in what I wrote regarding apparent negligent bias v me saying there wasn't editorial bias. I should have made myself more clear. What I was "defending" USA Today against was the accusation of malicious editorial bias. And by that I meant the notion several people were advancing that USA Today, at the editorial level, did this to her picture on purpose to make her look evil. And that, as I opined, is silliness.

    What Malkin's post and followups seem to indicate to me is that she (and possibly many of her regular readers) feels that it was basically an official swipe by USA Today against Dr. Rice.

    In the end, I'd say that the personal biases of the editors (if there even were any editors between photo, uh, enhancement and publication -- we still don't know if there were) contributed to their inattention that let this image go to "press". Did an editor okay this, knowing what it looked like? Probably not. No newspaper will make itself look like the Weekly World News on purpose. Did an editor miss it 'cause she didn't look 'cause she didn't care? Probably.

    There is a distinction to be made where a bias toward someone (like toward St. Hill) does not necessary equal malicious bias against the opposition. Sometimes it results in that, but not always. Are the editors and journos biased toward leftist values and politicians? OF COURSE! Did the staff of USA Today decide to make Dr. Rice look like she was wearing goofy-goggles and think they wouldn't get lambasted? OF COURSE NOT!

    Yes, it's a bad thing for the journos to be so monolithic in their political viewpoint, and the market, now that's it's been opened, is punishing them for that.

  • At 10/27/2005 11:23 AM, Blogger Roland said…

    Oh yeah - and Fishhead, you know I love you, man.

  • At 10/27/2005 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Roland you are technically illiterate. Filters adjust color to the entire image. Modifying only eye color, the editor must focus selection to the eyes first, and then filter.

    USA Today are Racist Bigots.

    It is reminiscent of early racist times using white/black faces to slander negroes.

    USA Today slanders blacks as black devils. Quit protecting Racist Bigots like USA Today.

  • At 10/27/2005 12:06 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    My technical illiteracy lead me to state quite clearly that to achieve the effect you had to mask the eyes. In fact, I said that I did that in semi-recreating the effect.

    I'll take my brand of technical illiteracy over your inability to actually read the text of something about which you plan to comment.

    And I see you've applied the same stellar logic to the entire staff of USA Today. Congratulations, sir (or madam, as the case may be)! You have earned yourself the worst comment award! At least the Steel City Cowgirl commenter had a bit of pizazz.

  • At 10/27/2005 12:24 PM, Blogger lionfood said…

    LOL - Having sharpened my own photoshop skills for 3 years at an art institute and having spent the last 5 years working in multimedia in which a VAST majority of my time is in Photoshop, I can tell you without the slightest chance of being wrong that those eyes were not done with any filter - it's a malicious photoshop job, and a very bad one to boot.

  • At 10/27/2005 12:52 PM, Blogger Sloan said…

    Roland, I can appreciate your desire to avoid jumping to conclusions. But honestly, how many times have we seen this sort of thing before?

    --The picture of the President with his arm straight out like a Nazi salute.
    --The picture of snarling Dick Cheney.
    --The "bathroom break" note from the President's meeting at the U.N.

    I've seen other news photos of Dr. Rice, and they always seem to catch her frowning or at a bad angle. In this case, to my admittedly untrained eye, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the original photo.

    I try to live by the dictum, "Never attribute to malice what can reasonably be attributed to stupidity." Given the evidence thus far, if I'm going to hold to that principle I have to attribute a level of stupidity to the MSM that may in fact exceed that of the producers of "Newlyweds." And that's a stretch, let me tell you.

  • At 10/27/2005 1:01 PM, Blogger Sloan said…

    Addendum to my previous comment: Of course there is the possibility that Condi is one of those people who doesn't smile a lot. Given the state of the department she has to oversee, I'm not surprised.

  • At 10/27/2005 1:24 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    Sloan - that's one of my personal mottos as well. As I mentioned before, I've seen a little bit of real evil, and a whole heaping lot of stupid.

    I take it that by your comment (and thanks for being reasonable) that you mean we should conclude it was editorial malice because of the behavior of the MSM as a whole. One could do that. I agree that as a system, the MSM shows an emergent behavior of malice against Republicans and conservatives. Therefore, if I were presented with a hypothetical case without particulars, I would have to conclude "bias," just based on probabilities.

    However, when presented with an actual individual case in which the particulars are known, we have to make a judgement based on the facts of that case. As in criminal court, you can consider prior offenses, but if the evidence isn't there in a particular instance, it just isn't there. The problem for the MSM is that they've already blown their credibility, as you correctly point out, meaning that no one believes them anymore, even when they actually do just honestly screw up.

  • At 10/27/2005 3:52 PM, Blogger Seattle Slough said…

    But typewriters weren't even able to do kerning back in '72. Oh wait, wrong thread.

    Seems like most of us need a big dose of Hanlon's Razor. Seriously. People are talking about how this photo must have been approved by someone. Sure. And that means what exactly? I pulled a bad photo off and posted it on my blog here:

    To spare you the trouble, Fox put up the wrong guy in a photo of suspected terrorists. I was happy to assign it directly to stupidity rather than speculating it was something else. That's Hanlon's Razor in a nutshell.

    Why assume malice when stupidity will more easily explain?

  • At 10/27/2005 4:57 PM, Anonymous Condi Fan said…

    Dummer'n a box o rocks?


    The intent was to make Condi look like some kind of voodoo snake woman.

    Not that being a voodoo snake woman is a bad thing.
    It just aint Condi's thing.

    She's actually pretty much a babe, what can i say, she gives me wood.

  • At 10/27/2005 5:06 PM, Anonymous White Power Ranger said…

    When do we get to see Condi in Playboy?

    I doubt we'll see her in Hustler...but hope never dies.

    Hey, Condi is a powerful woman, right now she does as she's told, because she's a highly placed functionary.

    If all the indictments work their way into an impeachment and removal od Cheney, guess what? SHE'S the president!

    What can I say, I'm a libertarian, but I thibk the country is ready for some HUGE changes.

    Donning flame retardant suit now.

  • At 10/27/2005 6:59 PM, Anonymous Nick Ruppert said…

    Roland, your hypothesis of USA Today stupidity is certainly as reasonable as intentional malice. How then could one tell the difference? To me, it would depend upon what USA Today did after the problem was brought to their attention. Did they apologize and explain that the picture was insufficiently reviewed, and promise to do better in the future? No, and I think that provides the answer to the earlier question. However, to be fair, the specific alteration might not have been intentional, but I suspect that the decision to let it run was. As many have noted, we do not see such unflattering pictures of media darlings such as Hillary, so someone somewhere must be must be reviewing pictures.

  • At 10/27/2005 7:18 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    Right. I agree that if the picture was just unflattering, it would make a good case that they had knowingly let it ride. The fact that the picture was ridiculous, just way over the edge, says to me that no one saw it before it went up.

    You don't make someone look bad by going on TV and calling them a dirty em-effer out loud. You do it in small steps, attempting to appear reasonable along the way. The USA Today might be a lot of things, but they're not deranged like the NYT.

  • At 10/28/2005 7:15 AM, Blogger Roland said…

    Just removed a comment due to it's entirely abusive nature and use of foul language.

    You may not like what I have to say, but please don't do that. Light swearing would be okay if it were in the context of an overall reasonable argument, but if it's only used to accompany unsupported insults, it's gone.

    Thank you.

    The Loving Management

  • At 10/28/2005 11:20 AM, Anonymous DominoGod said…

    Wow, you all have way too much time on your hands. Don't any of you repeate commentators have real jobs? The picture was doctored and I think we all know this. Enough said already!

  • At 10/28/2005 10:03 PM, Blogger wizard said…

    Why didn't you take a similar photo & repeat the process? Show me an example, don't just blather on about your theories.

    If you don't get the same effect, then perhaps your brain will kick into gear.

    Working "a portion" of the photgraph is pretty much a confession!

  • At 10/29/2005 5:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is not a flame...

    I agree with Roland with a few things... that with pure logic, it is impossible to really _know_ whether this occurance with the photo is due to "malice" (as roland chooses to describe it) or to "stupidity" on part of the USA Today staff (or even both). I agree, since I was not there, nor do I know the staff personally, that it would be hasty of me to quickly assume that either were completely true.

    Now, on another note of logic, Roland clearly states the following: " wasn't malice..."
    Everybody makes mistakes, and I'm assuming roland isn't perfect (sorry to flatter you, roland), but here, it seems that roland is making a very ambiguous assumption.

    I understand your argument quite clearly, roland. Clearly, mistakes can, and do occur just as you described. But I'd like to inform you of something else. Biases can, and do occur. Do not rule out the absolutes.

    Now that that has been said, it is my beleif (as past history and current evidence points towards) that this occurence is the product of a bias. But I keep an open mind to the "stupidity" theory as well.

  • At 10/30/2005 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Roland, you have amazing patience... As someone who finds themselves surrounded by Photoshop "experts", I know that most know 1% of what they "know"... And they actually work with it, it's their job. So, those idiots, together with the kneejerk Reps, and the people that don't read what they are replying to, and you get this thread, interspersed with your rational comments. PLease everyone, I invite you to read what Roland explains (complete with evidence), forget your "expertise", your opinions on the MSM, you political orientation, and just read... then, everyone needs to come back and post their apologies for taking up so much of his time...

  • At 10/31/2005 2:17 PM, Anonymous Bobby Dragulescu said…

    Well "Anonymous", perhaps some credentials are in order before I further demolish whatever evidence was offered.

    I have been using Adobe Photoshop for 8 years, 5 of which have been professionally. I work for a large advertising agency, and use the program daily. I have retouched images for fashion, editorial, and photojournalistic purposes. I have worked with people who retouch for Maxim, W, Vogue, Neutrogena, etc. I am friends with a newspaper assignment photographer.

    Now then... malice or stupidity, malice or stupidity...

    When the creative industry meshes with the business or political world, it is irrelevent whether the damage was caused by stupidity/ineptness or not. Malice is the outcome. It's a creative's responsibility to prevent internal "stupidity" from causing malice. Once the working files are converted to deliverables, that product represents the company (ie USA Today), not Joe Blow inept retoucher.

    Let me put it another way. If you buy a microwave from GE that ships with a faulty plug that short-circuits your fusebox, does the fact that it was "overlooked" and not created that way on purpose detract from their responsibility of the damage caused? Hell no.

    It doesn't matter if the retoucher was inept. It doesn't matter if it was missed on the way out. Malice is the outcome, because it's dictated by the events which transpire as a result.

  • At 10/31/2005 3:18 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    Sorry dude. The whole point was whether or not USA Today had malice as an intent. The effect was more silly than malicious, and if you insist on calling the end effect malicious, then you'll have to grant that it was particularly lame malice in this instance. BTW, in legal theory, malice, much like prejudice, are shown by intent and state of mind, not in outcome.

    The original post on was alleging specific editorial malice on the part of USA Today. I said that that didn't make a lot of sense. You've simply redefined the term "malice" to mean a bad outcome.

    As for your analogy, you've described legal liability, not a case of malice. To use another kitchen metaphor (like your flawed microwave example), and because I like cookies: just because I'm responsible for knocking the cookie jar onto the floor and breaking it does not mean that I did so with malice. Because it was an accident. I love the cookies, and the chubby little cookie-man cookie jar and would never do anything on purpose to hurt them. It was all a horrible, horrible accident, and now you've made me remember it and I'm sad.

  • At 10/31/2005 9:29 PM, Blogger BeEtLjOoZ said…

    I still find it hard to believe that the original photo needed any "punch" at all.

    I find it hard to believe - even if it was a hack not paying attention - that they didn't notice the stark and unnatural appearance their "punching" gave the image. It would certainly have to be someone that didn't give a rat's buttocks about the quality of their own work. The eyes in the "punched" image are so stark that I find it hard to believe it wasn't noticed by someone else before it hit the web. It glares at you...literally....

  • At 11/02/2005 4:36 PM, Anonymous Bobby Dragulescu said…

    granted you're right -- malice is related to intent and not outcome. I guess what I was trying to say, but couldn't quite express it correctly is that is just doesn't matter. A business like USA Today should be professional enough to not let stuff like that come out of their offices. All that really matters is the outcome, just like in any other business matter.

    I think it's splitting hairs to even get into a discussion about whether or not they did it on purpose or not. I think we all agree at this point that there was some intention to it which leaned heavily on political motivation. I happen to think it was done intentionally to make Ms. Rice look a little more "evil-eyed", you may not. The bottom line, though, is that it does. we should assume that people hired to correct and retouch photos know exactly what they're doing.

  • At 12/07/2005 2:50 PM, Anonymous Greg said…

    People!!! This is not news. It's just another whine from the fanatic right. Get your thumbs out of your mouths and grow up.

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