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Jul 21, 2009 5:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

South Shore Press runs doctored photo of press conference

Jul 21, 2009 5:48 PM

A doctored photograph published in a local newspaper had elected officials and community members up in arms this week.

The photograph depicts Brookhaven Town Councilman Keith Romaine as being present at a July 2 news conference at Smith Point County Park that he did not, in fact, attend. It appeared in the July 8 issue of The South Shore Press, a weekly newspaper serving the Tri-Hamlet community.

The original photograph was distributed with a press release issued by Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning’s office shortly after the press conference, at which county and town officials, including Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, announced that they had reached a deal to replace and maintain missing buoys directing boaters from the Smith Point Marina to the Great South Bay.

A reprinted version of the press release also was published in The South Shore Press, although it was altered to add Mr. Romaine’s name twice to the article, depicting him as being present at the press conference and helping to broker the deal with Ms. Browning and Mr. Lesko. The photograph was retouched to include an image of Mr. Romaine, as if he were present when the photo at the press conference was taken.

Both Ms. Browning and Mr. Lesko said this week that Mr. Romaine did not contribute to the settlement.

The misrepresentation upset Smith Point resident Debra Hagan, who attended the press conference as a representative of the Smith Point Peninsula Homeowners Association, a civic group that led the charge for the replacement of the buoys.

“To give the impression that he was there when he was not is objectionable to me,” she said. “That’s false representation.”

The newspaper’s director of sales and marketing, Fred Towle Jr., a former Suffolk County legislator who resigned from his county post in 2003 after pleading guilty to receiving bribes in office, acknowledged this week that the paper altered the photograph. He defended the practice, noting that he had received competing press releases and photographs from both Mr. Romaine and Ms. Browning and was attempting to combine the two.

He said he saw nothing wrong with adding Mr. Romaine to the photograph. “Yes, we did it,” he said. “It’s not like we intentionally removed someone from a photo—that would have been questionable.”

Mr. Romaine, who maintained this week that he had no prior knowledge of the doctored photograph’s publication, said that he arrived at Smith Point minutes after the original photograph had been taken and after Mr. Lesko left the area. He noted that he arranged rides for local civic leaders aboard town bay constable boats and that a town photographer took photos during the tour that his office then distributed to local media outlets.

Mr. Romaine, a Republican, charged that Mr. Lesko, a Democrat, and Ms. Browning, a Working Families Party member who caucuses with the Democratic Party, intentionally left him out of the original photo as a political maneuver. “They showed up at 10:45 and decided to take the photo and screw me out of the photo,” he said. “I don’t know why they have to play these petty games. I set this whole thing up.”

An aide to Ms. Browning, Joshua Slaughter, said in an e-mail this week that Mr. Romaine was purposefully not invited to the press conference because he had no role in the settlement between the town and county.

“The councilman was not involved in any way with the buoys being placed there or the agreement that was reached to install them,” he wrote in the e-mail. “For that reason, he was not informed of the press conference, so anyone who told him it was occurring was a third party to the event. … His attempt to use his relationship with The South Shore Press to get credit during an election year for something he has nothing to do with was the only intentional foul play that occurred. His statement is inaccurate and offensive.”

Mr. Towle rejected the notion that the incident had anything to do with the upcoming election, in which Mr. Romaine, Ms. Browning and Mr. Lesko are all seeking reelection. Instead, he said the paper was attempting to “make it a bipartisan story.”

Mr. Romaine said he was upset about the controversy surrounding the photograph, but he defended Mr. Towle’s decision to run it. “It bothers me, but it doesn’t bother me as much because that’s the photo that was supposed to be taken,” he said. “The editor of that paper was just looking for a solution when he received two photo-ops.”

Mr. Romaine said he has since written an e-mail to The South Shore Press “asking that they not use my likeness in any staged photo or mock-up.”

“I knew right away that this would not look good,” he added.

Ms. Browning declined to comment on the photo, other than to confirm through Mr. Slaughter that Mr. Romaine was not present. Mr. Lesko, who described Mr. Romaine’s exclusion from the press conference as a “miscommunication issue,” was hesitant to comment, citing his lack of knowledge of newspaper ethic codes, but did say that the photo was misleading. “The paper misled its readers,” he said, “and they will have to answer for that.”

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I have a hard time getting over Fred Towle's remarks when he was busted for adding a person to a published editorial photograph attempting to make present somebody who wasn't there. Presumably, he added the person without the editor's knowledge. Towle is in sales and marketing so he shouldn't have been writing or pasting photos. What's remarkable is that he feels there is nothing wrong with adding a person to a newspaper photograph, but there IS something wrong when you subtract a person from a ...more
By Scratch (26), Sag Harbor on Jul 21, 09 11:26 PM
Mr. Romaine says "I was there". Ms. Browning says "No you weren't" Mr. Romaine says "Yes I was". Ms. Browning says "No you weren't". Mr. Romaine says "I WAS NOT THERE". Ms Browning says "YES YOU WERE!" and then Mr. Romaine says......" I know you are but what am I?"
By private (27), sag harbor on Jul 22, 09 5:56 AM
Wow! Some things never change in Brookhaven!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 22, 09 10:45 AM
Integrity is the missing element in both Mr. Towle's' ungainly effort to re-write history (albeit on a small level) and in Mr. Romaines statement reported in the story above ". . . because that’s the photo that was SUPPOSED to be taken,” (emphasis mine). In other words one needn't be an actual attendee at any event - just Photoshop me in.

This opens up a whole new chapter in the world of reporting and public relations. Think big - REALLY BIG. I think I was at the Potsdam Conference with ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jul 22, 09 2:38 PM
Sadly there is a history. Mr Towle and Mr Romaine are ethically challenged. No cut and pasting to misrepresent an original photograph is ever done -- except, apparently, by the South Shore Press
By JimmyKBond (156), Hampton Bays on Jul 22, 09 11:10 PM
Okay I get it now. The power of the press belongs to those who own (or control) one. (apologies to AJ Liebling). What's the big difference Mr. Towle if you add or subtract someone from the picture? During the Stalin era (before Photoshop) the same photo would be reissued by the Kremlin with Stalin's former image mates disappearing from the shot, one by one by one, as they fell out of favor.
By barberosa (39), Watermill on Jul 23, 09 11:17 AM
I think we need to make an issue of Mr. Towle, and have him persona non grata in anything that can manipulate government on the South Shore. There should be no need for a big campgain to ruin the man, IF he is willing to leave the Press willingly. If not we can take this incident to the bigger audience, maybe even making an issue of it during elections with regards to who he helped and have this and any other incident spun as a negative for the campaigners.

Remeber to that there is also ...more
By Citizen Joe (1), Mastic Beach on Apr 26, 10 2:21 PM