Photographic `evidence' of a quiet Iraq trips candidate

ON BLOGS

April 09, 2006|By TROY MCCULLOUGH | TROY MCCULLOUGH,SUN COLUMNIST

If there's one abiding truism that celebrities, journalists and politicians have been forced to come to terms with in recent years, it is this: The blogs are watching and waiting for you to stumble.

The latest example of this involves Howard Kaloogian, a conservative congressional candidate from California. Kaloogian has been a vocal critic of the anti-Iraq war crowd and has made repeated claims that the media are not telling the whole story about Iraq, that the country is much better off than journalists and protesters would have us believe.

To underscore his point, Kaloogian posted a photo of a bustling city street on his Web site after a recent trip to Baghdad, with this caption: "We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

And indeed, the photo stands in stark contrast to what appears on the evening news. Happy couples walk hand-in-hand. Shops appear busy. Pedestrians amble about. And there are no signs whatsoever of chaos, strife or war.

But bloggers smelled something fishy.

Contributors of the liberal group blog DailyKos.com studied every inch of the photo and quickly confirmed that Kaloogian's photo was actually from a peaceful street corner of a suburb of Istanbul, Turkey.

An embarrassed Kaloogian removed the photo from his Web site and apologized, calling it "a stupid mistake."

"It was wrong. We're sorry," Kaloogian said to the San Francisco Chronicle last month.

He said the photo was taken during a layover in Turkey and was inadvertently posted on his Web site.

But Kaloogian has stood by his assessment that Iraq is better off than media reports suggested and posted a new photo to his site - this one showing a Baghdad street from a distant vantage point, where assessments of safety or strife were harder to come by.

The liberal blogging crowd, seeing an opening, began analyzing other photos on Kaloogian's site and quickly found another gaffe: A photo at the top of Kaloogian's site, showing him standing next to President Bush, appears to have been altered to even out the significant height discrepancy between the two men.

The original photo - which appears in a photo gallery elsewhere on Kaloogian's site - shows the president standing much taller than the congressional candidate.

Kaloogian's transgressions may seem minor, but the resulting fury has been anything but.

Like former CBS anchor Dan Rather - who stood by his Bush National Guard memo story even as conservative bloggers deftly proved the documents to be forgeries - Kaloogian has become a prime target for the partisan-fueled blog-based truth squad.

His ordeal is the latest reminder for all who aspire to public office and all who operate in the public sphere that, for better or worse, 10,000 Little Brothers are watching. The lesson for Kaloogian - and the rest of us - is clear: Be open, be honest, be careful and be accurate.

And if not, be prepared to face the consequences.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs

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