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Monique Curet
By Monique Curet November 3, 2021

Reuters photo of U.S. Capitol riot was not doctored

If Your Time is short

A photo taken by Reuters photographer Leah Millis during the United States Capitol riot on Jan. 6 was not doctored.

The photo, which depicts a flash of light and smoke, captured a moment at dusk when a flash grenade briefly illuminated the Capitol and tear gas was deployed.

Video captured by MSNBC at the same time the photo was taken depicts the same details, including the flash of light and smoke. 

The image Posobiec uses to compare Millis' photo to was captured two hours earlier in the day, according to data provided by the videographer who captured it.

On Jan. 6, during the riot at the United States Capitol, Reuters photographer Leah Millis was in the thick of the mob, wearing a gas mask, ballistic helmet and bulletproof vest, perched two stories above the ground on scaffolding she had climbed to get a better vantage point. 

From there, she snapped a viral image of the exterior of the Capitol, illuminated, with smoke billowing and rioters in silhouette.

Though the photo was an accurate depiction of the moment, a recent Twitter post claimed it had been "doctored to look as if the Capitol was on fire." The claim came from Jack Posobiec, a conservative activist who frequently supports Donald Trump on Twitter. In an Oct. 24 tweet, Posobiec said the photo was a "quick study in visual media narrative manipulation."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The photo was not doctored. It captured a moment just after the sun had set, when an intense burst of light from a flash grenade was visible and tear gas had been deployed. In an MSNBC video from the scene, the same moment is visible at the 1:33 mark in the video, and the details are identical, including the flash of light and smoke.

(Left, the tweet pictured in this screengrab questions the authenticity of a photo that was taken by Reuters photographer Leah Millis at 5:04 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2021. Right, a screengrab from MSNBC shows video taken at the same time.)
Millis responded on Twitter to Posobiec’s claim: "No doctoring, just an example of what photography does: freezes time. This photo happened to catch the split second a flash bang lit up the crowd. It looks darker because it was taken at 5:04 p.m. On that day in January, the sun set at 5:01 p.m. The smoke is likely teargas."
The MSNBC video displays the time in the upper left corner, and when the clock reads 5:04 p.m., the scene that Millis captured in her still photo is also visible in the video. 
Millis shared on Twitter a video and a still photo of the same scene taken by her Reuters colleagues, each of which echoes the details of her photo. In the days just after the riot, she was interviewed by multiple news outlets about her experience that day, and she shared the same details about the viral photo each time. 
Posobiec’s tweet also said that a second image he shared is "truecolor" from Jan. 6, compared with Millis’ photo. The image he is referring to was taken in daylight. It appears to be a screengrab of a video taken by videographer Lokman Vural Elibol of Anadolu Agency. Elibol shared with PolitiFact image data showing the video was taken at 3:05 p.m. Millis’ photo was taken two hours later at dusk. The events of Jan. 6 unfolded over several hours, beginning in early afternoon.
Our ruling

A Twitter post claimed that a photo taken by a Reuters photographer on Jan. 6 during the U.S. Capitol riot was "doctored to look as if the Capitol was on fire."

The photo was not doctored. It was taken at dusk, at a moment when intense light from a flash grenade briefly illuminated the Capitol and tear gas was deployed. MSNBC captured the same moment on video, with a timestamp that matches the time the photographer said the photo was taken. Another Reuters photographer and videographer also captured images of the same scene, with similar details.

We rate this claim False. 

Our Sources

Fast Company, "How one Reuters photographer captured the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol," Jan. 8, 2021

Fortune, "What it was like to photograph the insurrection at the Capitol," Jan. 9, 2021

LinkedIn profile, accessed Nov. 2, 2021

MSNBC, "Flash grenades, tear gas deployed on exterior Capitol balcony," Jan. 7, 2021

PolitiFact, "Three-hour delay: A Pentagon-National Guard timeline for Jan. 6," March 5, 2021

Today, "The story behind this viral image from Capitol unrest," Jan. 9, 2021

Twitter post, Oct. 24, 2021

Twitter post, Oct. 28, 2021

Twitter post, Nov. 2, 2021

Twitter profile, "L. Vural Elibol," accessed Nov. 2, 2021

Yahoo Finance, "ASX to open higher as US devolves into chaos," Jan. 7, 2021

Direct message interview with Lokman Vural Elibol, Nov. 2, 2021


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Reuters photo of U.S. Capitol riot was not doctored

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