It was arguably one of the least newsworthy pictures in the world, if only because it had already been seen by everybody. And yet, on March 11, 2006, The New York Times published on the front page of the first section, upper left-hand corner, a photograph of a man holding the photograph that had been seen around the world. Ali Shalal Qaissi, the man in the Times photograph (below) had told a group of human rights workers that he was “The Hooded Man” or “The Man on the Box.”
Within a week, The Times issued a retraction. The man holding the photograph on the front page of The Times was indeed Ali Shalal Qaissi (Clawman). He had been a prisoner at Abu Ghraib and had been nicknamed Clawman; but he was not the man under the hood in the photograph he was holding.
It is said that seeing is believing, but often it’s the other way around. We do not form our beliefs on the basis of what we see; rather, what we see is determined by our beliefs. We see not what is there, but rather what we want to see or expect to see.
...If we believe that Clawman is in the photograph, then we see Clawman in the photograph, even though all we are looking at is a hooded man draped in a blanket standing on a box with only his legs and hands visible.
The photograph should be a constant reminder of how we can make false inferences from pictures. And of how pictures and language can interact to produce falsehood.