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How a Romney Gaffe that Wasn't Went Viral on the Web

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, August 20 2012

"The Romney family misspells their own name in what might be the greatest Freudian slip in US history," the Facebook photo caption reads.

In the photo, Mitt Romney is lining up a group of young children to spell out his last name with letters printed on their t-shirts. Only they're in the wrong order in the image, and spell out "RMONEY" instead. Posted most recently in July on a Facebook page for the website Kulture Kritic, it has been shared over 40,000 times since it first appeared in February and is still going strong.

There are two problems with this image: those children aren't the candidate's family and in the real image, they're lined up to spell out "Romney." Humor winning out over truth, that hasn't stopped the doctored photo from traveling for months, not always being called out as a fake. Conservative and progressive commentators alike chuckled over what appeared to be a believable campaign gaffe, one that was perhaps prophetic given Team Romney's copy-editing foibles in the months that followed.

A meme in motion

From the Associated Press ...

... to Democratic Underground ...

... to Facebook.

"I happened to stumble across the original photo of Romney with the children while I was searching for images for inspiration," Dave Allsopp, who tells techPresident that he created the image and first posted it on the left-leaning online community he co-founded, Democratic Underground, wrote in an email to techPresident. "I'd seen a few DU members referring to Romney as 'RMoney,' and it just hit me."

Since then the image has spread everywhere, sometimes with DU attribution and sometimes without, sometimes acknowledged as a Photoshop job and sometimes not, from the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed to Republican-leaning blogs that decisively debunked it. Even Google Search suggestions point to widespread interest in the photo, prompting Googlers to complete their searches with terms like "romney money picture," "romney money family photo," and "romney money kids."

The Hill noted in February that Erick Erickson of retweeted a Twitter post of the picture and the comment "why oh why did Mitt Romney pose for this picture." He then noted it was photoshopped but added, "The Romney photo was photo-shopped but it speaks volumes that so many on the right weren’t surprised assuming it was real."

Allsopp says the photo was also popular because it seemed so real: There's no obvious evidence of editing, and it's certainly believable that a campaign handler might briefly have kids on stage in the wrong order.
While plausible, it's absurd enough that people share it and ask their friends, "can you believe this?"

The original edited photo, like other DU photos, had a small Democratic Underground watermark on it. Allsopp says that watermark is often removed on images that appear after making it off of Democratic Underground, which he co-founded and launched the same day George W. Bush was inaugurated: Jan. 20, 2001.

Allsopp isn't the only one who isn't getting credit.

The original image was taken by A.P. staff photographer Gerald Herbert on Feb. 3 in Elko, Nevada, with the caption "Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, poses for a photo with the Fisher family backstage prior to a campaign rally in Elko, Nev."

As part of the Washington Times staff, Herbert was a Pulitzer finalist for photo coverage of the Washington D.C. area sniper case. He has won over 50 journalism awards, but thanks to Democratic Underground, this may in an odd way be his most famous photo yet. (We haven't been able to reach him for this story.)

While the age of Twitter and Facebook has drained some of Democratic Underground's user base, Allsopp says he doesn't mind not getting credit for that image on the wider web.

"My immediate aim is to entertain the people who visit Democratic Underground, and they all obviously understand where the images come from," he said. "It's nice to get wider credit for something I've created, but at the same time I feel that once an image has truly gone viral, it really belongs to the Internet."

He's similarly blase about the ease with which people are being taken in by the image, which, he adds, was just "one guy with a copy of Photoshop and an Internet connection" getting involved in a campaign conversation he feels is dominated by multi-million-dollar TV advertising campaigns.

"I never tried to pretend that the original 'RMoney' image was real, and acknowledged that it was faked shortly after I posted it," he said. "But I understand that since then people have been confused as to whether it is real or not. As I said, that's probably the main reason why it has spread so far.

"It doesn't really bother me though," Allsop said. "That's what is for."