Over the past couple of years, questionable real-estate deals, a dubious association with an attractive pool boy, and unpublished, reportedly compromising photos of his wife have chipped away at the image of famed evangelist Jerry Falwell Jr. Earlier this week, the Trump-supporting president of the conservative Liberty University found himself embroiled in yet another controversy when Politico published a damning story by reporter Brandon Ambrosino, a Liberty alumnus. Included in the report were photos of Falwell, his son, and daughter-in-law partying at Wall, the nightclub inside the W South Beach.
The photos are tame by all standards, but they're controversial for the leader of a university that strictly forbids coed dancing and drinking alcohol. It appears Falwell understands the potential for fallout, because when Ambrosino showed him the photos, the evangelical leader claimed the pictures were doctored. "If the person in the picture is me," Falwell wrote, "it was likely photo-shopped."
Now World Red Eye, the photography agency that snapped the images of Falwell and his family partying at Wall in 2014, is disputing Falwell's allegations of photographic manipulation. This morning, World Red Eye founder Seth Browarnik posted a statement to Twitter in response to Politico's story.
"For 21 years, I have maintained an impeccable reputation for documenting Miami Beach's storied social scene," Browarnik wrote. "We wholly reject Jerry Falwell Jr.'s baseless allegation... that one of our pictures was 'photo-shopped' or manipulated in any fashion."
Adding to the agency's statement, Browarnik tells New Times that World Red Eye "sold the photos to Politico two weeks ago not knowing what the story was about... I had no idea that Jerry Falwell was in there that night until the story ran."
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Browarnik says his team went to work looking for all photos of the night in question as soon as he read Falwell's comments to Politico. In the process, the agency uncovered four other photos of the Falwells partying at Wall that night. World Red Eye published the photos on its site this morning.
"We knew we had more photos that were never published," Browarnik says. "That's why we keep names... We have a catalog of over five million photos that we keep for this exact purpose."
The photographer says this is the first time he's ever faced accusations of manipulating his photographs, and he takes the charge seriously. "Obviously, my good name is everything and my business, and I needed to protect what I built for 21 years.
"In my field," he adds, "Photoshopping something in that's not there is probably one of the worst things you can possibly do — and it's not legal."