Pictures don't lie...or do they?
“Within the murky world of conspiracy theories, photography plays a crucial role,” the BBC noted in a 2017 examination of conspiracy theories and the images that inspire them. The reason? Photographs have long been an accepted form of eyewitness evidence. Like any narrative, however, photographs can be misleading, and sometimes intentionally so. Here, we explore some of the famous photos that inspired conspiracy theories, some of which persist to this day.
A faked moon landing
Roughly 6 percent of Americans believe the Apollo 11 moon landing was nothing more than a cinematic tour de force produced by a government bent on “winning” the “space race” against Russia at all costs, including by gaining the confidence of the public. This photo of Buzz Aldrin beside an American flag is often cited – for its eerie lighting and the “mysterious” flapping of the flag – by those who believe the moon landing was “just a movie.”
Amelia Earhart didn’t die in a plane crash
Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared over the Pacific on July 2, 1937, and more than 80 years later, people still really want to believe that she survived that fateful flight. There are a number of conspiracy theories about what happened to her, and here’s the latest, sparked by this photo: She was taken hostage by the Japanese military after accidentally ending up in the Marshall Islands. Presented in a 2017 History Channel special, this photograph shows a Caucasian woman with short hair who resembles Earhart (from the back, anyway). She’s the one sitting on the dock, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, is supposedly nearby. Plus, according to NBC News, “the photo shows a Japanese ship, Koshu, towing a barge with something that appears to be 38-feet-long – the same length as Earhart’s plane.”
It seemed like pretty solid proof…but shortly after the special aired, new evidence emerged that this image was actually published in a Japanese-language travelogue in 1935, two years before Earhart’s disappearance. But that hasn’t stopped people from believing that this is the real deal, especially since there were also local accounts of a plane crash in the area at the time and schoolkids who swore that they saw the famous aviator.