Reuters photo of Capitol riot was not tampered with


On January 6, during the riot at the United States Capitol, Reuters photographer Leah Millis was in the middle of the crowd, dressed in a gas mask, ballistic helmet and bulletproof vest, perched two stories above the ground on a scaffolding that she had climbed to get a better point of view.

From there she broke a viral image of the exterior of the Capitol, illuminated, with smoke and rioters silhouetted.

While the photo is an accurate representation of the moment, a recent Twitter Publish claimed it had been “altered to give the impression that the Capitol was on fire.” The claim came from Jack Posobiec, a conservative activist who frequently supports Donald Trump on Twitter. In an Oct. 24 tweet, Posobiec said the photo was a “quick study of the narrative manipulation of visual media.”

The post was reported as part of Facebook’s efforts to tackle fake news and disinformation on its news feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The photo has not been tampered with. It captured a moment just after sunset, when an intense burst of light from a flash grenade was visible and tear gas was deployed. In an MSNBC video of the scene, the same moment is seen at 1:33 mark in the video, and the details are identical, including the flash of light and smoke.

(On the left, the tweet shown in this screenshot calls into question the authenticity of a photo taken by Reuters photographer Leah Millis at 5:04 pm on January 6, 2021. On the right, a screenshot from MSNBC shows a video taken at the same time.)

Millis responded on Twitter to Posobiec’s claim: “No doctor, just an example of what photography does: freezes time. This photo was taken in the split second that a flash lit the crowd. looks darker because it was taken at 5:04 pm That day in January, the sun went down at 5:01 pm The smoke is probably tear gas. “

The MSNBC video shows the time in the upper left corner, and when the clock shows 5:04 p.m., the scene Millis captured in her photo is also visible in the video.

Millis shared on Twitter a video and one still photo of the same scene taken by his Reuters colleagues, each of which echoes details in his photo. In the days following the riot, she was interviewed by various new electrical outlets about her experience that day, and she shared the same details in the viral photo each time.
Posobiec’s tweet also indicated that a second image he shared is “in true color” from January 6, compared to Millis’ photo. The image he is referring to was taken in daylight. It appears to be a screenshot of a video taken by videographer Lokman Vural Elibol from the Anadolu Agency. Elibol shared image data with PolitiFact showing that the video was taken at 3:05 pm. Millis’ photo was taken two hours later at dusk. The events of January 6 unfolded over several hours, starting in the early afternoon.

Our decision

Twitter Publish claimed that a photo taken by a Reuters photographer on January 6 during the US Capitol riot was “manipulated to make the Capitol appear to be on fire.”

The photo has not been tampered with. It was taken at dusk, at a time when intense light from a flash grenade briefly illuminated the Capitol and tear gas was deployed. MSNBC captured the same moment on video, with a timestamp that matches the time the photographer said the photo was taken. Another Reuters photographer and videographer also captured images of the same scene, with similar detail.

We assess this claim as false.

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