Friday, July 16, 2010

Photo forensics and Sarah Palin's biggest lie and ethics violation: Readers see the light

I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming number of supportive e-mails and comments about my rebuttal to Dave Weigel, who's currently guest posting at Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish. As you know, Weigel made several unsubstantiated assertions regarding ex-governor Sarah Palin's risibly untrue birth story and the circumstances surrounding her alleged pregnancy with a special needs baby in the spring of 2008, a few months before Senator John McCain would select her as his vice presidential running mate.

In that post, I called Dave out on his assertion that "people watched her announce the pregnancy" and that this was somehow proof that Palin was indeed pregnant. I reminded him of the shock with which her own closest staff and others in Juneau reacted to the news that she was seven months pregnant (which shock was reported, by the way, in the March 6th issue of the Anchorage Daily News), and asked him if he was familiar with the territory he was attempting to traipse through, that is, with Palin's appearance as she presented herself to her constituents and staff during her miraculously brief "gestation period" or even with the anatomy of pregnancy writ large (so to speak). I wrote:
Have you ever known anyone who'd given birth a few times in the past and was now seven months pregnant, Dave? Did she look like the woman at the top of this post? Lighten the contrast on your computer screen so the photo won't be as dark, and you can see where her pink and black scarf ends and the body behind it, dressed in black, begins. There is no seven month pregnancy there.

Several enterprising new readers, including some who had previously doubted both Andrew Sullivan and less well-known writers like me, took it upon themselves to do just that and send me the results. I'd like to share a few of their efforts, along with their impressions, in their own words.

First, here is a screenshot of the Anchorage Daily News website of March 14, 2008 (link).


If you click on it (and if you're like me, set aside your vanity and put on your glasses), you'll see that the caption under the photo reads:
Michael Dinneen / Associated Press

From left, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Sandy Parnell announce Palin's endorsement of Parnell Friday, March 14, 2008 at the state elections office in Anchorage, Alaska. Parnell had just filed to run against incumbent Republican Don Young for U.S. Congress
And here is the photo, unaltered, as it appears on the ADN site:


Reader T writes:
Ms. LB--I took your advice and I maxed out the brightness and minimized the contrast (minned out?), then repeated the steps two more times. Nothing else. [...] What's interesting is that you can see even in the low-res result is gradations of shadow below the jacket and it's clear that there's separation between her jacket and her skirt. That's not 7 or 8 months in on a woman who's had babies before.
Here's his lightened photo:


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Reader S writes:
I took a moment to do this for you and, for full disclosure, included in the screenshot the curves I used in Photoshop, so that anyone could see exactly what I did to get that image from what you posted. [...] The Palin conspiracy requires only the family, some pillows, and perhaps a family doctor. This makes things much more plausible to me, and partly explains why there are so many holes – after all, Palin doesn’t strike me as a “details person.”

On a personal note, I have no experience inspecting heavily-pregnant bellies, so I will have to (take) your (and others’) word for the shape of a pregnant belly, although my understanding of gestation is that at 7 months, the child does not resemble a large, squared-off bagel.

And here's his photo, with a helpful Photoshop graphic so you can see exactly what he did:


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Finally, reader G, a self-described "card-carrying member of both the Skeptics Society and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry", writes:
I first noticed this as a story that wouldn't die in Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Atlantic, and I dismissed it as being too far out to possibly be true. Where's the proof. But the more I've learned about it over the past few months, the more I think there's something to it. And let's face it, Palin does seem to have a strange aversion to the truth, even when lying doesn't seem to be in her best interest at all. [...]

I've verified the photo and date are genuine. It was taken by Michael Dinneen of the Associated Press and published in the Anchorage Daily News (part of the McClatchy—formerly Knight Ridder—chain) on the same day, March 14, 2008. Trig Paxson Van Palin was supposedly born April 18, 2008. Four-and-a-half weeks later.

And here is his photo:


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That's a generous helping of quod erat demonstrandum right there. Thank you again, everyone.

When I lived in Honduras, the newspaper used to publish political cartoons and, every so often, one would be completely self-explanatory--the picture said it all--and the caption beneath it would simply read Sin palabras. Literally, that's "without words", but as with so many wonderful Spanish terms, it's rich with nuance and can refer to other things--for example, one being rendered speechless by the sheer audacity, disgusting opportunism, and craven behavior of a politician. Or the quality of something being utterly indescribable using common (or even uncommon) language due to a hoax of its like never having been perpetrated on the American electorate heretofore.

As I proofread this post before clicking Publish, I must admit that I am once again finding myself sin palabras.

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For a wealth of on-the-record documents, photos, and videos, please see Palingates, especially their sidebar. In addition to Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish, other blogs who've covered this story for many moons include Palin's Deeptions, The Immoral Minority, and Palin Babygate.

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