Marie Claire Gets Creative with Photoshop

Marie Claire is under fire, according to and the Drudge Report, for altering a photo of Elizabeth Vargas breastfeeding her newborn at the news desk.

According to both Web sites, a source close to Vargas said:

Elizabeth was more than happy to sit for the interview but was disturbed that the magazine would set aside basic journalistic standards to photoshop her head onto a fake image. Vargas did joke that her real baby is cuter, that she is proud to breastfeed her newborn but wouldn't do it at the anchor desk and that she wouldn't be caught dead in that ugly gold blouse!

A quick search on Google News found no reference to the situation other than MediaBistro, but the “photoshopping” of Vargas’ picture brings up an interesting point. We have seen the consequences for journalists that fabricate their stories. It cost Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair their careers. It cost the profession of journalism as a whole its credibility. Is the cost the same for altering photos?

In this case Marie Claire said the byline of the story explained that the photo was an illustration to demonstrate a point.

There isn't a working mother who can't relate to this image and immediately identify with the very real dilemma Elizabeth Vargas wrestled with. We do not believe anyone seriously thought she would nurse and report the news the same time! This is an image illustration and is stated so with the byline of this story. We only want to make the point that women choosing between their career and being a parent is a tough decision that we are very sensitive to.

CBS received criticism earlier this year shortly before Katie Couric made her debut on the evening news for airbrushing Couric’s photo to make her appear thinner. If the “source close to Vargas” is correct, she didn’t even sit for this photo and Marie Claire used Photoshop to make a point.

Is this the same as fabricating a quote in a story? Aren’t the editors, and savvy art directors, creating the image they want to make the biggest impact the same way journalists embellish or create quotes to get exactly what they need from the story? And, finally, is it okay that Marie Claire doctored the photo if they included an illustration?

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