Media Manipulation: Father of Infamous ‘Crying Girl’ Confirms She Was Not Separated From Family

Media Manipulation: Father of Infamous ‘Crying Girl’ Confirms She Was Not Separated From Family

The image that has quickly become synonymous with the Trump administration’s controversial border policy which saw children separated from their families has, the girl’s father suggests, been used to feed a media agenda after it was confirmed the girl was not taken away from her family.

In a new interview with the Washington Post, the girl’s father Denis Javier Varela Hernandez clarified that his daughter was at no point separated from her parents. The revelation raises a number of questions, and has sparked debate across online forums. Is this one of the grandest media manipulations in recent history?

https://twitter.com/esaagar/status/1009965421791936513?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpetapixel.com%2F2018%2F06%2F22%2Fcrying-toddler-in-iconic-photo-never-separated-from-mother%2F

That TIME Magazine could run a cover depicting the child crying whilst stood alone opposite Trump — seemingly in sync with controversy surrounding the President’s hard-line on immigration control — is concerning in that a photograph entirely unrelated to the situation has been taken out of context and has been used to sensationalize the issue. It’s a clear manipulation, and a stark reminder of the importance of context in documentary photography.

In giving interviews, John Moore, the photographer who took the image, only fueled the fire by stating he “knew” what was “coming next” for the girl and her family. Speaking to NPR, he said “These people really had no idea about this news. And it was hard to take these pictures, knowing what was coming next.” Naturally, news outlets have latched on to his words, only leading to heightened tensions from the public. The real kicker comes from Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz, who photographer Moore was riding with that night. Ruiz has since admitted the toddler was crying only briefly, during the “two minutes” it took to search the girl’s mother. By his own admission, he concluded “[the media] are using it to symbolize a policy and that was not the case in this picture.”

Regardless of one’s personal or political feelings in regards to the Trump administration and its border policies, it’s apparent that in this case, things have escalated out of control. The internet has run wild with outrage, circulating the image at a rapid pace before any real context had been provided. The media ran with it, too, in what has been a stark reminder of how easily reputations can be damaged. Although clearly a photo composite, TIME’s depiction of Trump towering over the crying child has only caused heightened tensions towards him. It only reinforces that photography can be used to shape the way in which world events are depicted to the rest of the globe.

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87 Comments

LA M's picture

Sheesh...politics, region, etc doesn't mix with our thing. Don't you guys have tutorials, industry news, yada yada to report on??

Simon Patterson's picture

Don't be silly. Photojournalism is, after all, an important genre of photography.

michael buehrle's picture

only if it's true and not made up.

Simon Patterson's picture

Unfortunately, a lot of what passes as photojournalism is not actually photojournalism, for that very reason. Here we have a classic case.

michael buehrle's picture

100% spot on.

16mm Camera's picture

This is the age we live in now. Truth or context doesn’t matter. It’s who can get the most rise for political gain.

I hate what was happening to those kids l politics aside, just glad measures were taken to rectify it.

There are some things (human rights) that shouldn’t be political imho.

Scott Hays's picture

Not to many examples I can think of (a very few) where especially photojournalism is not made up in order to sell an idea or for a publication to get a point across.

every time any of us depress that shutter button, we are making up our own story. We can block out the pleasant things in an image if we only want to capture the bad... we can block out the bad if we only want to show the good.

Truth in photography has never existed. Everyone uses images for their own purpose no matter who it is.

LA M's picture

Look, I agree with you. The same can be said of race, color, religion, etc. Yet you missed my point...FS has so much more to offer besides those issues, why cloud the site with this sort of stuff. There are plenty of other forums to battle out that mess. I can name ten things that are more valuable to this space than this stuff...and if you are honest, so can you.

Scott Hays's picture

You said it a lot better than what my mind was thinking. We get bombarded by politics everywhere we turn today. I really don't want to come here to find a photographer is "surprised" that media in any form uses items that will advance their narrative.

Pretty disappointed in this one.

Simon Patterson's picture

The easily most well publicised recent news photo turns out to be a lie, and you think a photography website shouldn't talk about it because it relates to an issue of politics, colour, race or religion?

There would be no photos to discuss if we add your suggested list of taboo topics to those who don't agree that we should show anything risque, those who don't want the work of male photographers shown, those who don't want heterosexual couples shown, those who disagree that any hint of violence or instruments of violence to be shown, those who don't want beautiful nature locations revealed, those who disagree that retouching of models should be done, and all the other taboos people desire to enforce.

LA M's picture

There are other sites completely geared towards "news" of that type. Aren't we here to discover, learn and share?

At least that's what FS used to...really circling towards the drain when people start dragging in dirt from outside.

Alex Cooke's picture

Hmmm, yesterday alone, we posted the following:

1. An inspirational post about following your dreams as a photographer
2. A review of Sigma's new Sony lenses
3. A tutorial on long exposures
4. A deal on a battery kit
5. A contest where you can win a free hard drive and get your work looked at by us
6. Tips for editing vertical video
7. A story about a photographer being mistakenly banned from Facebook
8. How to create an action for whitening teeth
9. Funny photography accounts to follow
10. The article you're so upset about
11. A list of talented landscape photographers we think people should follow

Putting aside the idea that we shouldn't talk about photojournalism, which I adamantly disagree with, I'd hardly say we're no longer posting content that helps people learn photography and discover other photographers.

LA M's picture

Mmmm hmmm...and did anyone complain about those?

Did they start unnecessary fights between extremists etc?

Probably not..know why Alex?

Because FS was about those things from day one. That's why people came here ;-)

Simon Patterson's picture

Leigh, there will be someone who finds each one of those articles objectionable for one reason or another. Not everyone takes the time to whinge about it to the world.

The content of this article was very accurately summed up in its title. It begs the question - why did you even open the article if you strongly object to reading about a political photo on Fstoppers? As Alex so clearly demonstrated, Fstoppers has provided a huge variety of other articles on the same day that you could have read instead.

LA M's picture

I don't think you understand but thank you for having the patience and respect to try. We need more honest but civil discourse in the world.

Peter H's picture

Alex posts social justice junk all the time. He's why I left this site after a long time. Came back to see if it's the same, hasn't changed. You think you can find some places online that haven't been infected with the rabid sense of hysteria. This is a photography site, period.

Alex Cooke's picture

Sorry you don't like my work. For the record, though, out of almost 1,400 articles I've written, about 15 have been in that realm. I'd hardly call a one percent rate "all the time." Also, I didn't write this article.

Peter H's picture

I know you didn't write it, but I certainly figured you let out a lil screech on this one. Intersectionality right? :p

Peter H's picture

Any amount of BS is too much already. The asinine drowns any quality content you may create otherwise. Do yourself a favor and just stick to actual photography content - maybe you can move forward in your life instead of getting hung up, spinning mental cycles on fairy tales. I say that sincerely. The biggest oppressors for a lot of these people, are themselves

Alex Cooke's picture

Look, I understand that you and other people might not agree with what I have to say, just as I might not agree with what you have to say. But I hope you understand that I put a lot of thought and effort into those articles and they're not just something I wrote in 20 minutes and tossed out there to stir the pot and piss people off because I have a rabid sense of hysteria, but rather because I'm trying to have legitimate, deep discussions about what photography represents and how it can influence a society. It actually upsets me a lot when comment sections turn into a mess of everyone dismissing everyone instead of respectful and rational, evidence-based discussion. That sort of thing help no one.

Rob Davis's picture

This image itself was not true, but no one is disputing that it is symbolic of the truth. The state of Michigan is reporting that infants as young as 3 months old are arriving in their detention centers.

David Penner's picture

CNN had a border patrol agent on and they asked him about situations like that. He said that they had a father and kid separated because the father had a warrant out for his arrest. He had raped someone. Its easy to say that kids shouldnt be separated from their parents but what if the parent has a record? Should they get a free pass because they are now with their kid? What if that isnt actually a family member? Also why are they crossing the border illegally? They arent detaining families if they cross through an actual border crossing.

Rob Davis's picture

Oh please with your what if's. As IF that is the typical situation. It's not. Most of these people are fleeing that kind of violence. Both Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller have said on the record this was/is the policy because it's supposed to be a deterrent, not because it's necessary.

The problem is it's not a deterrent because of inhuman as it is to take children fleeing violence away from their parents, what they were leaving behind was much worse. Kids being forced into gangs, young girls forced into sex slavery to serve the gangs. No hope.

What Obama did doesn't matter anymore. He hasn't been the president for well over a year. Are we supposed to ignore how bad this is because we didn't catch it under Obama's watch? These are stupid objections in an attempt to avoid dealing with reality.

David Penner's picture

Not looked like a rapist. Was a rapist. Are you saying that if you cross the border illegally but have a record you should be free to go if you have a child with you? You don't really seem to care about the safety of your neighbour do you? What about legal citizens? If a rich white guy has a kid and rapes someone should he be let off?

Rob Davis's picture

This Straw Man crap doesn't work on me. Find another sucker.

Rob Davis's picture

Wrong frog man. I'm saying it's still representative of the truth and the truth is what actually matters, not Time magazine being asleep at the wheel.

Scott Hays's picture

Why is it that no one in the government can ever produce the numbers where the people being detained, etc... are rapist, drug pushers, etc...? I'm not saying they don't exist, but I would really like to see accurate numbers, not hear it from someones mouth.

Rob Davis's picture

Touching story. Still, I am not bound in my actions as a citizen by the actions of the Obama administration. I did not know about this process then. Maybe the media is to blame. Maybe they didn't know either. It's not the kind of thing most people would brag about, except a guy like Trump. He decided to send his staff out to advertise this policy. Obama didn't. Now that I know, I don't like it. If I had known about Obama doing this, I would not have liked it. Just like I did not like his drone program.

chrisrdi's picture

"What Obama did doesn't matter anymore."
Everything every president has ever done will always matter. That is a very dangerous and ignorant comment. If what you are saying is true, everything the Bush Jr. and Sr. did doesn't matter? Bill Clinton's affair doesn't matter? The things Richard Nixon did don't matter? What they have done is in the history books. It will ALWAYS matter.

Rob Davis's picture

Chris go back and reread the context of that statement. I'm saying that because Obama may have separated children, does not mean we can't be object to it now like many on the Right are suggesting. Liberal hypocrisy is not worse than children being taken away from their parents for trespassing. You can disagree if you like. I don't care.

Ike Hayman's picture

He lacks the mental capacity

chrisrdi's picture

You think republicans aren't hypocritical? You think either side cares a single bit about you or me? They are in politics for the dollars not to help the country. Both sides do the same stuff man.

David Penner's picture

I saw one article from back when Obama was in office where Democrats were complaining about how the whole child thing was being politicized. Guess which Democrats are screaming the loudest right now? Exactly the same people. It's no coincidence that the mid terms are coming up. Like usual it is very quickly backfiring though. A poll was done and the majority of people polled actually blamed the parents of the children and not the government. If you have a legit reason to be fleeing your country just go to the border and cross legally. The ironic part is if an American citizen was crossing the border back into the country with a child exactly the same thing would happen.

Simon Patterson's picture

Its lack of authenticity drove its loss of authority to speak into the issue.

And, probably worse, its lack of authenticity combined with its high level of publicity will likely degrade the ability of many future genuine photos to shape people's thoughts.

Overall, it is a very disappointing revelation that this photo does not show what it has been purported to show.

Chris Spicks's picture

Unless this article is about the photographers comment about "knowing what'd happen next" and basically misleading people and a journalists job not to be sensational, the rest of this article is meh...

I personally don't care the story behind the photo.. Time made a composite art piece to tell a story. The story is that "welcome to America" is not "open arms to embrace the weak weary and helpless" its about "Umm who are you and why are you here"..

If I take a photo of a person, sell the rights and that photo is used to say that person used Ambien or some other pharmaceutical, no one would blink an eye.

Simon Patterson's picture

This is why I don't follow the work of journalists. Photojournalists or otherwise. Their primary job is to tell a story that a publication will pay them for. Their secondary job is to tell the truth. It has to be that way around to put food on their table.

Not following "the news" for a few years has simply meant not having my mind manipulated as much by journalists. It has been one of the better decisions of my life.

tripbeetle's picture

No one has a monopoly on truth. It's the job of a responsible citizen to avail him/herself of numerous sources of information and, using intelligence, experience, connections, instincts, etc. work out what to believe. It's called interpretation. That goes for anything: the news, the neighborhood gossip, writing a history essay, etc.

Throwing up your hands and burying your head in the sand is one option, but it reduces you to a state where what you think or say doesn't really have any significance for anyone, because you're uninformed.

For me, this photo doesn't somehow prove that "the media" is unreasonably biased against President Trump. If families weren't being separated, then his administration wouldn't have made the policy reversal it just has. Therefore, whatever the photo's faults, it does represent—even if it doesn't precisely depict—a current truth.

Simon Patterson's picture

Oh I don't just throw my hands up in the air and bury my head in the sand. Far from it.

Instead I go straight to primary sources whenever possible, and stay well away from stories generated by journalists where I can. That applies equally to the news, evaluating neighborhood gossip or writing a history essay.

Why take any notice of the middle man who's pushing his barrow, when you can often go straight to the horse's mouth!

tripbeetle's picture

You mean you go yourself to the Mexico border to check out what's going on there, and White House press meetings and local Washington DC bars to check out what's going on there, etc. etc.? And, once you're there, you talk to and listen to lots of different people so that you're sure you're getting a balanced picture?

Analyzing the plethora of news articles you can get without leaving home, and exercising your judgment on those sounds much more efficient and reliable.

Also, you clearly believe the report that says the photo in question doesn't depict what it says it does. I believe it because I consider the journalists of the Washington Post to be credible witnesses. Why do you believe it?

Simon Patterson's picture

No, I don't need to travel myself to the places incidents happen either, and nor would I need a time machine to write a history essay. Clearly you don't understand what "primary sources" means.

Stick with the middle man if that makes you happy.

tripbeetle's picture

"nor would I need a time machine to write a history essay"

Exactly! You would need history books, written by those glorified journalists, those professional middlemen between the past and the present, known as historians.

Worse still, you would even need newspapers and magazines from way back written by people who actually worked as journalists, or, worse, as scribes directly in the employ of the high and mighty.

And, OK, tell me what you mean by "primary sources." As a history post-grad, I have a very clear idea of what I mean by them. Curious to hear your definition - and especially about how you access them.

Simon Patterson's picture

You're a history post grad and your response to my comment about using primary sources was to conclude that I need to travel to the Mexico Border, the White House or Washington DC bars to get my information?! You, sir, are a troll.

As you should know, if your claimed credentials are legit, a primary source is essentially a documented first hand account. That is what I mean by "primary source".

Primary sources are often available on the internet, and they are available for the little girl's photo issue that started this discussion. I'm not going to tell you how to internet.

tripbeetle's picture

"A documented first hand account."

In this case, it was professional journalists who documented the deception, first-hand.

Back to square one! lol

Simon Patterson's picture

As I stated right up front, a journalist's main job is to tell a story that sells, not a story that's true. Hence why I don't trust em, and try to avoid them!

Thankfully his first hand account is not the only one available for this incident, although we can see his account, and his excuses after he was exposed...

tripbeetle's picture

Simon, the reason I took umbrage at your original post is that it denigrates a whole group of people on the basis of your (apparent) unsavory experience at the hands of a few. Whether we're talking professions, religions, ethnicities, or nationalities, that's a narrow-minded, uninformed - and ultimately dangerous - point of view.

You might think you're being worldly wise in saying that "truth doesn't sell" and has to be twisted and sullied in order to make it palatable, but that's just not so.

I have aquaintances who are journalists, one of whom I studied with, and they are conscientious, fairminded, good people - and those trustworthy qualities are more than evident in what and how they report. Sure, there are hacks in their profession, just as there are charlatans in any profession, but a clever reader picks up on that somehow or other, sooner or later.

And towards the end of our exchange it seemed you admit that you do actually use your powers of judgment, experience and intuition to sort the wheat from the chaff.

But lumping any kind of group together as "them" and writing them all off as untrustworthy to "us" is much of the reason why the world is in such a mess.

Simon Patterson's picture

David, I have not said that "truth doesn't sell". I don't even believe that "truth doesn't sell".

What I have said is that "telling the truth" is a secondary priority to a journalist, where "telling a saleable story" must be their first priority. This is the point that underpins all I've written, yet I note you have never addressed it. In itself, my point is not a judgement on journalists, it is merely an observation of the conditions they must work within.

I have never had an unsavoury encounter with a journalist, and nor has anyone I've been close to. Well, to my knowledge, anyway.

I have seen a lot of work created by journalists, though, like many people have. There hasn't been anything particularly untruthful about the journalists I've known in the past, any more than people from any other common vocation. In fact, one journalist I knew was one of the most honest and upright people I've ever met.

I agree with you that we should use our powers of judgement, experience, intuition etc to evaluate the information we ingest. This is true whether our sources are mainly primary sources or secondary sources.

Unfortunately for journalists, they work within a system that requires them to produce saleable content, frequently, as their first priority. Journalists who don't do that won't put food on the table, in other words, they'll stop being journalists. I am aware there are exceptional human beings, some who work as journalists. These rare types have found a way to overcome the temptation to take shortcuts in ensuring they communicate the truth.

But such exceptional kinds of humans who drive themselves to swim against such a strong tide are extremely few and far between in this world. It is unlikely that a substantially higher proportion of people with such exceptional character would work as journalists, compared to any other vocation. Instead, I expect that the proportion of journalists of extremely high character is probably similar to that of any other common trade or profession.

In these days of amazing access to all kinds of free information on the internet, we have more access to primary sources than any generation ever before. It therefore makes little sense to me to rely on information interpreters whose priorities are encouraged to be so obviously flawed, when the primary sources are often so freely available.

In the past, when I have compared primary sources (or my own first hand knowledge) with the related story by a journalist, the number of journalists' articles that I've seen are 100% correct is approximately zero. Journalists almost never have the time or the external motivation to be 100% accurate. I guess that's not really their fault, but it's a good reason to take as little notice of their work as we can help.

tripbeetle's picture

Looking up the word "journalist," its first recorded use was in the late 17th century.

Edward Gibbon: as far as I know, he never wrote news articles; so, no, he wasn't a journalist.

Deleted Account's picture

That argument makes sense until you realize, if it were as big a problem as reported, why couldn't they find an authentic photograph to represent it? With all those people being separated in the most harrowing of ways, it should be easy. :-/

Anonymous's picture

OK, the original picture was good, reflecting the reality of trump era.
Surprising for me is the picture above. I hope that the picture was not taken during the drive. All three sitting on front seats, the mother? wearing the belt, the father? not and the child sitting on the armrest....!

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