When news broke that Osama Bin Laden was dead, the Reuters Global Pictures Desk in Singapore could think of only one thing: We have to see the picture of the dead body. The world needed a genuine photo to confirm that the elusive Islamic militant leader was dead. We also knew that the first news agency to publish a picture of his dead body would lead the way on this historic story. Sending out a fake picture could be very embarrassing.
A few hours later a picture was circulating on the Internet. It appeared to be Osama Bin Laden’s bloodied face in a video transmitted by a TV station in Pakistan. But was it really Bin Laden?
Some media claimed that the source of the picture was the U.S. military, but editors on the Global Pictures Desk found inconsistencies in the image that made them suspicious. There was odd pixelation and blurring on his face, which was also darker in some areas. The picture also looked familiar. After a quick search of our pictures archive, we found that the bottom of Bin Laden’s face was similar to a picture of the al Qaeda leader speaking at a news conference in 1998. After overlaying the 1998 photo with the picture of the dead Bin Laden we had a perfect match. The mouth, ear and beard were identical. It was a fake and the desk did not transmit it.
However, the fake Bin Laden was used by numerous news websites and even appeared in print in Pakistan.
We’re still waiting for the genuine picture of Bin Laden’s body.
(See below for the two images overlaid in an animation. Notice the mouth never changes.)