The Camera Cannot Lie
In his “Falsehood in War-time” (Allen & Unwin, 1928) Arthur Ponsonby (now Lord Ponsonby) published an interesting collection of the irresponsible or deliberately fabricated stories used on both sides in the last war as an aid to war-propaganda. On the title page he quotes a saying, “When war is declared. Truth is the first casualty.” Wars do not change in that respect, and John Bright’s statement of a century ago is still true: “You will find wars are supported by a class of argument which, after the war is over, the people find were arguments they should never have listened to.”
A small illustration of the ease with which news can be coloured occurred recently in the Sunday Pictorial (March 28, 1943). On the front page is a picture of a woman tearfully waving farewell to someone in a departing train at a railway station. The description provided by the Pictorial is that she is “a young Parisienne wife” at a Paris station. “. . . for her the tearful agony of farewell is made all the more bitter by the fact that her man has been brutally torn from her side by Hitler’s order to make munitions for use against her friends.”
A very plausible story, but the picture (suitably altered from the original) had already appeared in Picture Post, May 23, 1942. Only there the lady was waving farewell to her husband, an English soldier, who had gone off for his training. So the English wife, who started weeping on Paddington station in May, 1942, was still weeping 11 months later, but now miraculously transformed into a Frenchwoman, in Paris, watching a train, (with “Third Class” blacked out) on its way to Germany. Large numbers of readers of Picture Post (like The Socialist Standard reader who informed us) had spotted the fake, and Picture Post (April 10) drew attention to it. The Sunday Pictorial explained that they had taken the picture from a Swiss newspaper.
The incident itself is unimportant, but it should serve to remind readers of the capitalist Press and listeners to the wireless of the possibility of news being, distorted and falsified. Though it should also be remembered that the really harmful distortions are not usually crude fakes like this photo. What is much more serious is the permanent (and often unconscious) twist given to information by colouring, selecting and suppressing, in line with the class interests of those who control the sources of information.