Kerry Fonda 2004 election photo controversy

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Composite of two different images one of Kerry taken on June 13, 1971
One of Jane Fonda taken in August, 1972

During the 2004 presidential election campaign an image was released that appeared to show John Kerry and Jane Fonda speaking together at an anti-Vietnam war protest. The image turned out to be a politically motivated forgery.


The image is actually a composite of two different images: one of Kerry taken on June 13, 1971, at an anti-war rally in Mineola, N.Y.[1] and one of Jane Fonda taken in August, 1972, speaking at a Miami Beach, Fla. rally.[2][3] The images were combined and then further altered to appear as if the combined image was from an old newspaper clipping.[4] A caption was also added stating, "Actress And Anti-War Activist Jane Fonda Speaks to a crowd of Vietnam Veterans as Activist and Former Vietnam Vet John Kerry (LEFT) listens and prepares to speak next concerning the war in Vietnam (AP Photo)" even though Fonda was not present when Kerry gave his speech.[5]

The most influential media outlet to publish the forgery was The New York Times, which cited the image in a Sheryl Gay Stolberg story on February 13, 2004.[6] The image received further attention on many websites.[7] Right-wing, anti-Kerry, supporters claim that the original Kerry image is the fake and that the combined image is the real image even though the copyright owner of the Kerry image, Ken Light, has the original negatives.[8]

Ken Light, the copyright owner of the original Kerry image,[9] was quoted when asked on what the lesson to be learned from the story as saying:

The lesson is to take lots of photographs, be conscious that if things don't seem at that moment important, they may be important. Store your film and keep it organized. And be vigilant about how your work is used. This is the challenge in the new digital age. I hope at some point, some smart computer scientist will come up with a solution. Some sort of encryption in the digital file that can't be passed on.

— Ken Light [8]

The only known authentic photograph in which Kerry and Fonda appear together was taken by Leif Skoogfors at a rally at Valley Forge, PA in 1970.[10]


In 2005, the copyright owner of the Kerry image, Ken Light, managed to track down the creator of the image, Richard Taylor, and sued him in New York Federal District Court for copyright infringement. Light sought damages of $200,000 plus legal fees.[9] The original case was thrown out based on jurisdictional issues[9] and the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court.[11]