Does EXIF Data Prove Trump Is Lying to America?

Does EXIF Data Prove Trump Is Lying to America?

I'm not one to write political articles, and I promise you this one isn't meant to be pro-Trump or anti-Trump. However, as photographers, we've been told that a photo is worth a thousand words. What if the words these photos replace tell a very different story?

I woke up this morning seeing a popular photography term trending on Twitter: EXIF. This acronym stands for "exchangeable image file format," and it is used to give standard terminology and reporting on digital files produced by digital cameras. Photographers are familiar with this data because it can tell us what aperture an image was shot at, the camera's shutter speed, the camera and lens model used for a particular photograph, and what time the images were taken. This was a strange term to see trending on a worldwide platform like Twitter, so you know I had to click on it.

What I found was two images released by the White House showing Donald Trump signing papers in the Walter Reed Hospital. The two images were released yesterday, and there was a lot of controversy around whether or not the hospitalized president was actually getting work done or if he and his staff had staged a fake photoshoot. With so much misinformation surrounding whether or not the sitting president is falling sick with COVID-19 or if his case is rather mild, images of him working and looking in good spirits are some of the few bits of information the outside public has on his potentially dire situation.

The bombshell that this new tweet exposes is that the two images were taken only 10 minutes apart. With Trump sitting in two different locations and in two completely different outfits, we have to ask ourselves how probable it would be for the president to appear in such radically different situations in such a short period of time? Below is the screen capture of the viral images showing the two timestamps from the EXIF data.

As you can see in the two red boxes I highlight, the EXIF says one image was taken at 5:25:59 PM, while the other was taken just 10 minutes later at 5:35:40 PM on October 3.

There are a few other interesting things the EXIF data from these images, as the two images below show. The first one is that the images are credited to White House photographer Joyce N. Boghosian. You can also see that the images were taken on a Sony ILCE-9 camera, which is also known as the Sony A9 mirrorless camera. The lens used for both images is the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses (shot wide open at ISO 3,200 for all you photo geeks reading).

Additional EXIF images of the images in question

When I saw these images, I had a little laugh to myself and thought: "yep, the White House seems to have been caught staging some photos of the president doing work while diagnosed with Coronavirus." I also thought that maybe this would be an interesting article for Fstoppers readers. And in writing this article, that's when a few strange things started popping up.

The first thing I wanted to do was create my own screen captures of the EXIF data so that I wouldn't have to use someone else's images in a fair use situation but also to double-check the authenticity of the images spewing around the internet. I tried to find the original published image, which is cited as coming from the White House, but I couldn't find it on Twitter.  "No worries," I thought. This image is posted everywhere on the internet.

None of the images I found online had EXIF data

After saving a few different copies of the two images, I noticed that none of them actually had any EXIF data attached to them. Many websites and social media platforms strip EXIF data in an effort to make files smaller, so that was expected. What I didn't expect was for every single image I threw into Photoshop to all have this data missing. Where could I find the original image used to create the viral set of bombshell EXIF images? How could I reproduce these myself?  Maybe the Joyce N. Boghosian, the White House photographer who took these images, would have them on her account. No such luck there either. This is a bit strange.

I decided to look a bit more into Joyce N. Boghosian to see if there were other clues. One string of tweets was showed Joyce taking the image of the event and people were complaining about her not wearing a mask while taking these photographs. I noticed that the woman in this photo wasn't using a Sony camera at all but instead had a Canon and Leica. It seemed strange that a press photographer would have more than one or two brands of cameras on them at any one time, and surely, they wouldn't use both Sony and Canon cameras with the same type of 70-200mm lens. And if this was a photo of Joyce as she took the shots of the stage, well, she didn't shoot them on Sony cameras at all. In trying to find out more about Joyce, I discovered that the photo above wasn't of Joyce photographing Trump at all but rather a tighter crop from her time working with President George Bush. So that was a bit of a dead-end too.

This photo shows Joyce more than a decade earlier

I finally found what I think are the original versions of the two images through the Associated Press. When thrown into Photoshop, I still cannot see all the data shown by the images posted on Twitter. I can confirm that the EXIF data in the file does show the same timestamps under the "Orgin" tab. However, there doesn't seem to be any copyright information or metadata tags at all. I'm not sure what to make of this; does my version of Photoshop not show the full EXIF data? Maybe some of the data was stripped from the smaller version of the image I downloaded from the Associated Press's website? Maybe Apple is a better operating system than Windows?

So, where does this all leave us? For me, I like to know the truth. As I've seen in our Coronavirus Journal, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. It seems the media outlets on both sides of the political spectrum like to edit and chop words to fit their own narrative. This is probably nothing new and has been happening ever since the beginning of the printing press. What is new is social media and the ability for every single person to have a voice and spread this so-called "news." Finding the truth in all of this noise has never been harder, and with the current pandemic still at hand, more and more people are getting on edge trying to understand what is actually happening in the world. Unfortunately, many have simply given up.

The other night, I watched a documentary on Netflix that has been recommended to me by many different people. The Social Dilemma is a documentary on how social media has quickly changed from being strictly a social platform to being a powerful system designed to enslave the human mind. The 90-minute documentary explores the creators of some of the largest social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google. Without spoiling some of the topics they discuss, a few programmers believe that these relatively new platforms are simply too powerful to prevent the spread of misinformation. On one hand, having a limited number of powerful news agencies that are trusted with sharing the truth to the world is problematic; on the other hand, having billions of people replace that paradigm without any real sense of accountability is equally terrifying.

How does this all relate back to the EXIF data tweet I read about this morning? I want to give the whistleblowers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to when these two images were taken. Being the skeptic that I am, I also wanted to research it a little before coming up with my own conclusion. I do find the two images strange, and the White House has been cloaking the president's current COVID situation in a sea of non-transparency.  As another image has shown, even the items on the desk seem to point in the direction of the images being staged.  Some might ask if someone simply could have made up fake EXIF data and pushed them online to a mob of people foaming at the mouth to discredit the president? That doesn't seem to be the case since the times match from images anyone can download off the AP's website. Regardless of when the EXIF data tells us the images were taken, we are still left not completely knowing the context of what's happening in these photos themselves.  I think the truth lies somewhere between a photograph and a thousand words.

Is this more proof the images are staged?

I'm hoping Joyce Boghosian will speak up and give some insight into the EXIF data exposed in these tweets. Was her camera's internal clock set correctly? What happened in between those 10 minutes? As a photojournalist who has been documenting the daily activities of several presidents for decades now, I hope we can trust her to give us the truth. Whatever happens, this story could turn out to be one of the last big public relations disasters of the president during his term or it could be the opening saga in another four years of his presidency. Hopefully, the truth will come out from those actually present in the room when these images were taken.

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227 Comments

Mutley Dastardly's picture

It's a possibility - and we wouldn't be surprised. It's a nice find.

Michael Comeau's picture

As far as the clock goes, not out of the question for photographers to forget to update for daylight savings time, or to have automatic adjustment for DST turned off.

Alex Cooke's picture

Sure, but that wouldn't change the time difference between the photos.

Donald Gaither's picture

It does if one is set to DST and one is not thereby making one camera an hour "faster" than the other.

Nick Straub's picture

Unless the photographer that took the photos took them with the same (one) camera. It mentions this in the article, both photos were taken with the same camera so that ends your theory.

Patrick Hall's picture

They were both shot with the 70-200 so I think it’s safe to say the photographer only had one of those on one camera.

Nick Straub's picture

Ten-minute difference between two photos taken with the same camera. The DST means nothing here.

Mike Ditz's picture

Michael, are your cameras set to the right time?

Cool Cat's picture

Patrick Hall... you are an extremely knowledgable guy with photography so you know meta-data of any type can be easily changed, as well as deep photo manipulation. So if you were to question the EXIF file in a general statement it would be one thing. But mentioning Trump (either pro or anti) makes quite a political statement. So what exactly is you article truly about?

Patrick Hall's picture

This is why I’m so curious about the original images. I assume they were sent out by the White House in an email. If the WH manipulated the EXIF data then we are in serious trolling mode. If they didn’t manipulate the data and the journalists who caught this have the same data as the original file, then it seems the images were intact taken within 10 mins of each other.

Cool Cat's picture

True, but the problem is the journalists themselves can no longer be trusted.

Ryan Sauve's picture

Oh boy here we go.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

First rule of the Internet: never argue with the cats.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

People downvoting you for saying the obvious.
Journalists are just as prone to lies and manipulation as politicians, and for the same reasons.
Only trust journalists if you also trust politicians.

S.W. Anderson's picture

Not being familiar with the state of journalism in your country, I can only express sympathy if your cynicism is justified. Forgive me, though, for being skeptical that there are no honest and ethical journalists reporting news in your country.

VINICIUS YUZO ZUCARELI's picture

I'm really truly sorry if you think that about the American news.
I read a lot of it from small sites to big sites and I wouldn't trust a single one of them.

Only by gathering facts from several and them weighting can I get a little bit closer to the truth. And it is usually very far off from any one single of them.

S.W. Anderson's picture

A professional journalist's career with an ethical news organization depends on honest, accurate and fair reporting. A professional journalist "prone to lies and manipulation" won't last long in an ethical news organization. That organization's credibility depends on publishing or broadcasting honest, accurate and fair reports. Any reporter who tarnishes that reputation can expect to be dismissed with severe prejudice and, often, go out in a blaze of bad publicity.

Don't judge a news operation to be manipulative and deceitful because you don't (or can't) distinguish between its straight-news stories, presented on news pages or broadcast segments, and the opinion pieces presented on op-ed pages or by clearly identified *columnists*, whose job description includes rendering opinions as well as facts, both of which you might deem obnoxious.

There are pure-propaganda cesspools where defrocked journalists can not only get a job, but have a very lucrative career, if their lies and manipulations slant the right-wing way. See Fox News, breitbart.com, Newsmax, listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and so many more. It's a broad, deep and well-financed industry, and its pervasiveness could very well be the reason for your cynicism.

In addition to all that, consider that we've seen a rise in point-of-view news-and-commentary programming that is analogous to the work of newspaper and magazine columnists going way back in history. That format gains additional immediacy, breadth and depth on cable and broadcast media, PROVIDED those doing it make and keep clear what is being presented as *factual news* and what is being given as *opinion* about that news.

If you feel journalists themselves can't be trusted, look to ethical-journalism operations that employ ethical professional journalists. Those organizations make mistakes now and then. They also run corrections or clarifications in the wake of those mistakes.

Robert Morgan's picture

" A professional journalist "prone to lies and manipulation" won't last long in an ethical news organization".

You've accurately identified the problem, the vast lack of any existing ethical news organizations. With the proliferation of advertising and steep competition, the news BUSINESS has to create any edge they can get. This Exif data story is a great example. Is it true or not, don't know, but it's driven tons of clicks and ads, and even derivative stories like this one profit from analysis of wether it's real or not, the banner ad fstoppers is making cash from I see as I write this is proof.

We need more non-commercial news.

Alex Reiff's picture

I think it's worth pointing out that the specific news source mentioned in this article is Associated Press. It's one of the best-regarded news sources in the country, and media bias watchdogs consistently rate AP as a highly factual news source with minimal bias.

James Michael's picture

I was with you until you only called out Conservative commentators.

Stephen Scully's picture

So the bad sites are conservative and the liberal ones have nothing to hide on openly supporting marxist organisations like BLM and Antifa, hiding the Obamagate scandal, letting Hilary off the hook completely for her emails, encouraging the Russian hoax and more.... try opening the other eye. It is not the right that support looting and rioting.
....and Patrick, stay away from the political, that headline leans one way... you could easily have said "Are political photographs staged?"...perhaps concentrate on solving your voting problem in the competitions by stopping the votes from being anonymous. And I am not even an American.

Kendrick Howard's picture

Your point was "On Point" all they way to the third paragraph when you revealed your total bias by leaving out MSNBC, CNBC, Rachel Maddow, etc. as if they are not opinion based and slanted. Typical...

Cool Cat's picture

Looks like you been watching too many movies and lost touch with reality.

Donald Gaither's picture

Not saying one way or another on these being staged, but I will point out that these don't look like different outfits. One has a jacket on, and the other has it off, but they both look like he is wearing the same white shirt with French cufflinks.

Patrick Hall's picture

Yes, same outfit but one without the jacket. But the exact same documents and different locations. Maybe this can be explained by saying the photos were both taken within 10 mins and the jacket came off and the locations were changed naturally. But it could also be for a staged photoshoot. But then if it was a staged photoshoot, is that even that bad if you need to portray a theme to the public? I guess it all depends if these two images are supposed to be candid snapshots or not.

Kirk Darling's picture

It depends on whether the two photographs are supposed to represent the president able to be up and active over an entire day rather than merely ten minutes.

Joe Schmitt's picture

Honestly, this is ridiculous. Once you put on a jacket, it doesn’t mean it has to stay on all day long. It can come on and off throughout the day. And you can easily see it’s the same shirt. Clothing is a non-issue here.

As for the files and the jacket being off, he could have been working in one location for an hour when the photographer finally showed up. She took the shot and then he moved to another location to work where she took the shot 10 minutes later.

I don’t like either of the presidential options here but it’s clear that this is an anti-Trump article 100%. If you’re going to call out some variables, then call out ALL of the variables. Not just the ones that fit your false narrative for this article. Please stick to photography and just photography.

jim hughes's picture

I'd be the last person to defend Trump from accusations of falsehood. But only the photographer could clear this up. Anyone could have punched in EXIF data to make the photos look like fakes, then put them in circulation.

Mike Ditz's picture

Whatever happened to Occams Razor? In 99% of shoots I do, I shoot it this way and that way, jacket on and off. For all we know the 2 shots are in the same room and can be reset in 2 minutes...Changing the EXIF is some deep state, conspiracy or Q thinking.

James Michael's picture

According to Occam's Razor, he was working and they saw it as a photo op and, like every professional photographer on this site, said, let's try it with and without the jacket and with different backgrounds. The idea that the entire thing was staged for... what reason?? sounds like deep state, conspiracy thinking. I don't know what Q thinking is so...

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