How a Mother's Day Photo Led to a Palace Disaster

How a Mother's Day Photo Led to a Palace Disaster

When Kate Middleton edited her Mother’s Day photograph ahead of it being released to media on Sunday morning, it is impossible to know exactly what she was trying to change for the perfect shot. A Palace source said her adjustments were “minor” and emphasized that she and William wanted to offer an informal picture of the family together. Analysis of the photograph suggests that one area concerning her was around Charlotte’s wrist, or that she was possibly merging multiple similar images for the preferred final result.

Yet, however small or benign the changes were that she made, by the time Kate sent the picture to her staff for distribution it was undoubtedly, in some way, altered. And, while it’s obvious that the last thing the Princess would have wanted to do was create a storm of controversy, the events that have unfolded show how a silly mistake can do just that.

Conspiracy theories about her recovery have now gone into overdrive on social media. But, more worryingly for the Palace, the story has made headlines everywhere as public interest questions about standards, trust, and manipulation in an era of fake news have been raised.

One of the things that makes it particularly difficult to understand why Kate would edit the image is the fact that she would have known just how much scrutiny it would be under. While she does not have a habit of poring over social media or reading everything written about her, she would have been very aware of the interest in the picture as the first time she had been properly seen since her surgery. This was a chance to show people how she was really doing following a grainy paparazzi image over which she had no control.

Any sign that the picture had been tampered with was always going to lead to an increase in questions, and that is exactly what has happened. The internet is now more awash than ever with wild theories about what she was trying to hide and how and where the image was manipulated. A photograph that had the potential to bring calm has led to far more hysteria and a huge rise in speculative content.

Social media is one thing, and it is questionable whether anyone should be paying any attention at all to its relentless, unchecked and frankly often unhinged churn. But where the Palace has really been challenged this week is through the fact that the image was released as a news image and was ultimately rejected for failing meet strict standards that exist within photo agencies to protect us all from misinformation.

This has led to debates about the Palace’s credibility as a source of news, or to put it another way, facts. “It’s serious because there is a potential long-term consequence here in terms of trust,” ITV news Royal Editor Chris Ship told Good Morning America today. And any trust issue is a problem for an institution that is publicly funded, sits at the top of society, and who people hold to the highest standards.

Because of this, the story has gone far and wide including to channels or publications that wouldn’t routinely cover the royal family. CNN has announced it will be reviewing all handout photos previously provided by Kensington Palace. And the metadata of the image has been analyzed for precise evidence of editing.

Kensington Palace has not released the original image, which is a questionable choice because it is something that could obviously help them prove the assertion that there were only minor adjustments. But where they have got it right this week is through the personal and seemingly heartfelt apology that Kate issued on social media.

The fact that the Princess was willing to quickly put her hands up and own up to editing the image and apologize for the confusion has gone a long way towards silencing the furor. It seems pretty clear that she genuinely did not realize the standards that an image released to photo agencies needed to meet, and that this was a genuine mistake she was keen to rectify rather than an attempt at a gigantic-cover-up. Criticizing the fact that the image released by the Palace was edited is legitimate and does not in itself amount to hounding her. But it would be profoundly wrong if the discussion around the issues raised over the photograph somehow took away from Kate getting the space she needs to recover privately from surgery.

However, when it comes to what the royal family do want to release publicly, this situation will have been a wake-up call to Kensington Palace. It will surely have an impact on the future when it comes to how images are prepared for issue, and how they are received. The Palace will be hoping it does not impact the extent to which people question whether what they see and hear from them can be trusted.

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