Crisis Management By Photoshop

The public relations gaffes just keep on coming, which makes one wonder about the decision making processes - or lack thereof - at BP.

On Monday, blogger John Aravosis at AMERICAblog.com wrote that BP had apparently manipulated a photo of its spill command center on its web site. The original photo showed BP's command center personnel monitoring the Deepwater Horizon spill activities, but BP tried to enhance the impact of the photo by placing additional images from the oil well cameras on some of the command center monitors that were originally blank.

The date of the photo was also questioned, with some indications that it had been originally taken in 2001, not 2010.

Mr.Aravosis wryly noted in his post, "I guess if you're doing fake crisis response, you might as well fake a photo of the crisis response center."

The story got picked up by the Washington Post on Tuesday and soon other media outlets which forced BP to admit that it had faked part of the photo, and to issue orders to company personnel not to manipulate any photos in the future.

BP maintained, though, that there was nothing nefarious about what had been done to the photo.

However, soon more Photoshopped BP spill-related pictures started to be discovered (one very crudely done), which has started another round of questions in both the global media and blogosphere asking BP to come clean on all of its manipulated pictures.

BP has only admitted to three so far. In explaining the altered photos, BP said:

"BP's photographic department uses Photoshop to edit images we post on the bp.com Gulf of Mexico Response web site. Typical purposes include color correction, reducing glare and cropping. In a few cases, cut-and-paste was also used in the photo-editing process. These cut-and-pasted images have been removed. The original and edited images have been posted here for comparison. We have also included an image that appears cut-and-pasted, but was edited using the color saturation tool to improve the visibility of a projection screen image."

The altered photos has also started a round of "Where's Waldo", as the Washington Post writer Steven Mufson termed it, with a host of folks now scanning every BP photo of its spill response to see whether it too was doctored.

IEEE Spectrum had an article titled "Seeing is Not Believing" on computer-assisted altered photographs and how hard they are to spot last August.

There is also a nice series of articles on determining the authenticity of photographs of historical events by filmmaker Errol Morris that appeared in the New York Times a few years back.

If more altered photos than the three so far found show up, expect BP's management reputation to sink further, if that is possible.

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