The Washington Post has a well-earned reputation as an edifice of journalistic integrity. It is the house that Woodward and Bernstein built, the newspaper that was big enough to bring down a President and breathlessly cover countless others. It is an institution to itself, with enough awards from each of its sections to fill a Washington rowhouse.
That award-winning coverage has always included the paper’s high school sports section as well, which still churns out fabulous features and fantastic photography and video footage. In fact, one recent high school sports photo was even honored by the White House News Photographer’s Association (WHNPA). The shot, taken by veteran Post sports photographer Tracy Woodward, depicted a victorious high school wrestler exulting in the glory of victory while his opponent lies on the mat with his head in his hands. It’s an absolutely fabulous shot, depicting all the raw, pure emotion that flows into prep sports every day.
There’s just one problem: The award-winning photo isn’t real. Or at least it isn’t accurate. Sure, the match happened, as did the captivating poses by Freedom (Va.) High wrestler DeQuonte Timbers (he won) and Robinson (Va.) High wrestler Jake Pinkerton (he lost). Yet the photo that Woodward submitted to the WHNPA shows only the two wrestlers. When it actually happened, the wrestlers were accompanied by an official in the background.
As reported by the NPPA, that photo of the two wrestlers and the referee was previously published as part of a collecting depicting Woodward's best work from 2012, leaving the photographer little room to justify his personal re-touching before the shot was submitted for consideration. Perhaps in a nod to its aforementioned integrity, it was the Post’s own staff that noticed the difference between the two photos, reporting the irregularity to the WHNPA, which then rescinded the award.
You can check out the clear differences between the two photos above.
It’s important to note here that the Post never submitted the photo itself, and that it was submitted by Woodward himself. Still, for a longtime, award-winning photographer to so brazenly put forward a clearly altered shot -- particularly when the original was just as compelling, if lacking a few of the dramatic overtones from lighting -- is a stunning faux paus for one of the nation’s last remaining journalist grande dames.
Of course, this doesn't even mention what Woodward was thinking himself when he submitted the photo. Did he really think that no one would notice the difference between the photos if he won?
There has been no official statement about any potential punishment for Woodward, though MaryAnne Golon, the Post's photography editor, told the NPPA that Woodward's discipline was "an internal matter" and would be "consistent with our policy for photo manipulation."
Regardless of what the Post decides to do, everyone can rest assured that he won’t earn any plaudits -- nor the paper any fancy hardware or plaques -- for a falsified effort that ironically covered up brief imperfections, all while demonstrating how those exact competitive imperfections make prep sports so wonderful.