Photos are just another way of telling stories, and therefore, together with all other mediums is subject to the perspective and interpretation of the storyteller.
I believe it is totally unethical to remove elements from a photography by digitally manipulating it. Maybe a good way to determine how much a photo can be manipulated is to ask oneself, “Is this photo still telling the same story that the photographer intended?”
It probably all comes down to the editor’s preference. Just as text piece can be changed from what the original writer intended so can a photograph. Simply by cropping it differently a photo-editor can make the photo tell a totally different story.
The reason why so many people care about it is because you often see the original photo somewhere else but not the original text of an article that has been modified.
The National Press Photographers Association says, “As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public.”