Q: Is that a real photo of Sarah Palin holding a rifle and wearing a bikini?
A: It's a fake — Palin's head on the body of a woman who posed for it 2004 as a joke. We have the full story of how this image was created and spread like a virus, fooling many.
A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but that doesn't make it true. Soon after Sen. John McCain named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a faked photo began to circulate showing a grinning Palin wearing a red, white and blue bikini and holding a rifle with a telescopic sight. It was quickly exposed as phony by blogger John Hawkins of Right Wing News, who said he examined the photo in a graphic program and determined that Palin's head was "pasted on" the body of another woman. Hawkins later located the original shot of the actual bikini-wearing gun-toter. But there's even more to the story – and FactCheck.org has the details.
The original photo was actually taken May 23, 2004, somewhere east of Athens, Ga., by Addison Godel, now a student of architecture at Ohio State University in Columbus. He says it was a gag shot. The friend who posed for it, whom he identifies only as "Elizabeth," was 22 years old at the time and intended it as a spoof of flag-waving, gun-toting persons with whom she disagreed politically. The weapon pictured is not even an actual firearm. "It was definitely not a real rifle," Godel told us in an exchange of e-mails. It looks to us like an air-powered pellet rifle, but Godel says he doesn't recall whether it was a pellet gun or a BB gun.
Godel says he uploaded the photo to his public flickr.com Web page in 2006, but that he's not the one who pasted on Palin's head. Responsibility for that has been claimed by another person, who describes herself as "a recently laid-off soul with way too much time on her hands." Posting under the name of "Innocuous Fun," she states: "I was the brazen Photoshopper that doctored the image. I created the image this past Saturday [Aug. 30] and posted it to my Facebook blog." Elsewhere, she posted a screen shot of that private Web page to back up her account. "To be honest, I didn't think ANYONE would see this photo except my friends." But somebody copied the fake photo and it began to spread like a virus: "faster than herpes in a celebrity rehab clinic."
We contacted "Innocuous Fun," who has given us permission to say that her real first name is Naomi, and that she is a 27-year-old, unemployed Web site editor who lives in New York City. We're withholding other personal information at her request. Naomi tells us she got the idea after hearing that McCain's surprise pick for vice president was a former beauty queen and lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. Recalling the "Elizabeth" shot which she had seen earlier, she searched the Internet quickly for a head shot of Palin that had somewhat similar lighting and created the composite image using the Adobe Photoshop program in about 15 minutes.
Although only 289 people have access to the image on her private Facebook page, Naomi was not all that surprised to see it used elsewhere. "I did say, 'If you want to pass this on, feel free.' " But she says she was amazed at how rapidly and widely it got around. "I had no idea it had spread as far as it did until brother called me at 3am to tell me my picture was on the Huffington Post," she says.
This image has been exposed as a fake numerous times elsewhere. Nevertheless, we continue to receive inquiries from persons wondering if the photo is real, and we have seen Internet postings passing it off as authentic.
As Naomi notes in one of her postings, "Alas, people believe what they want to believe, especially in an election year, and this little exercise in Photoshopping is no exception."
We say "Amen" to that.
— Brooks Jackson
Hawkins, John. "This Is The Sarah Palin Bikini Shot You Are Looking For And, No, It's Not Real." Right Wing News, 2 Sept. 2008.
Godel, Addison. "elizabeth – american flag bikini rifle." Posted on flickr Web site, accessed 8 Sept. 2008.
_______, Naomi "Sarah Palin in Bikini – Original Blog Screenshot." Posted on flickr Web site, accessed 8 Sept. 2008.