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Iconic photo ultimately didn’t illustrate the story but it wasn’t “fake news.”

The photo published on the front page of the June 25-July 1 issue of the Review prompted many readers to question its use.

The photograph was taken on June 12 by Getty Images staff photographer John Moore in McAllen, Texas. We licensed the image from Getty Images through Catholic News Agency.

That photo was selected because it was among several that pushed the conversation about the government’s “zero tolerance” separation policy. That conversation included the U.S. bishops, who spoke strongly against the policy. Archbishop Robert Carlson called the act of separating children from parents “inhumane, morally unacceptable…,” which is the quote we used as the headline. (See his statement on page 13 of the same issue or www.stlouisreview.com/jel.)

In the original caption with the photo filed to Getty Images, photographer Moore wrote that the child and her mother “were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation.” At the time the photograph was taken, there was no way for Moore to know exactly what would happen to the family, but he knew that the zero-tolerence policy meant that separation was a possibility. We kept that detail in the caption published with the photo.

We put the edition to press in the late afternoon of June 20. By late the next day, Reuters had reported that the father of the girl clarified that she and her mother hadn’t been separated. His response was prompted by a Time magazine cover story that suggested the girl had been separated. Time later issued a correction.

Once the detail that the family hadn’t been separated emerged, we removed the image from our digital platforms, as I felt it no longer served as an appropriate example of the separation policy. Of course, there’s no way to unpublish an image in print.

Some readers also resorted to lashing out against this image as “fake news.” Fake means something isn’t real or genuine. To be clear: there’s no evidence to suggest this image is fake. The moment is real, authentic, raw. John Moore has been very clear about that, and there’s no evidence to support any claim that it is anything but genuine.

“Fake news” is a propaganda phrase intended to discredit the truth being reported. It is now used to describe information with which people disagree and stories that shed light on issues some would rather keep quiet. Volleying that phrase about, without regard to its true meaning, interferes with honest understanding of information. Our Church calls on all of us to “practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media,” in order to … “form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2496)

Among our responsibilities is to help the faithful understand contemporary issues in light of Church teaching. We rely on many sources to help with that — most notably the Gospel and our bishops. We take our obligation to accurately report on events and Church teaching very seriously, and we do so without political allegiance. Church teaching spans the full political spectrum.

Sometimes, we publish information that rankles readers and challenges their political or cultural preferences. Understanding these issues from a Christian perspective often makes us uncomfortable, but is a critical part of our formation. As we wrote in the same issue, when bishops speak on issues of morality, we must seriously consider their words. That was the purpose of our front page and the coverage in that edition.

— Teak Phillips

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