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Oct 15, 2004

Defining the NYTimes' Photo Bias: (Or, Kerry Still Getting Short End of the Pic)

Because I've been on something of my own campaign regarding (what I see as) bias in the NYTimes campaign photo coverage, I thought it might help to be more specific about it.  I was thinking, for example, how I would lay it out to the Times editors.

So here's some criteria:

1.  In juxtaposing photos of Kerry and Bush on either the same web or newspaper page, photos of Bush often show him either physically engaged with, or interacting with an admiring crowd, while photos of Kerry often depict him alone (or in the presence of people delegated to be there) where the presence of the crowd or audience is only (eerily) implied.  (In the print edition, by the way, the Bush photo is usually run above the Kerry photo -- as it is today.)

In photo's of Kerry (whether juxtaposed or not), this is what often occurs:

2.  There is a photo of Kerry in which the camera angle creates an effect that reduces him in stature.  This typically occurs by showing  Kerry from a distance.   This effect might accentuate the size of objects closer to the camera, making Kerry look no bigger than a podium, or even an apple.

It can occur by showing him in the foreground of a much large object, such as a jet, or juxtaposed against a vast benign background, such as an almost endless sky.  It can also occur with a shot from above, so Kerry looks reduced in the context of an event, or the event as a whole becomes diminished.  It can also be the case where Kerry is physically distorted in some way, such as having a part of his body cut off. 

So, what's my issue with today's Bush/Kerry coverage? (Web story here. Print edition: page A23.)

 

bushvegas

In the Bush shot, the President emerges out of the shadows in dramatic light.  He is balanced symmetrically in the center of the image, responding to an adoring crowd.  The shot both depicts and signifies someone who reaches out, and makes real contact with people on both sides of the aisle.

 

vegaskerry

In the Kerry photo, the Senator is once again shown in isolation in spite of being in a room full of people.  Because of the long shot -- at the deep back of a stage, with his feet cut off -- Kerry is "miniaturized" so he's no taller than the podium.  In contrast to the Bush shot, where the President basks in the light, the spotlight here emphasizes the empty podium.

The depiction of the (only) other person in the shot is also evocative.  She has turned her back to the candidate, and is walking away.  Of course, he's going to give a speech.  But, you still have the symbolism of someone taking an exit.  Again, the image is characterized by a disproportianate  amount of dead space.

  Basically, what you have is an unanchored Kerry, situated outside the primary spotlight, captured in a diminutive scale, in a shadowy setting that dissolves into a darkened void.  (In the print edition, where both shots are black-and-white, these distinctions are even starker.)

Then again, it could all just be my imagination....

(For previous posts on the subject, see the category "Leading Photos.")

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Comments

Did anyone else note that during the third presidential debate, the cameras were looking up at President Bush and looking down at Senator Kerry. Chris Matthews (MSNBC - Hardball) commented briefly on this during the post debate commentary saying that the Kerry cameraman was trying to adjust the camera height to compensate for John Kerry's height. Apparently, CBS recognized that there is an advantage in being looked up to and adjusted the cameras so we would be looking up to the President and looking down on the Senator.

Hey... I guess the NYT is balanced after all. Biased to the right in their photos and biased to the left in the coverage. What are you complaining about?

There is a tremendous amount of this subliminal advertising for Bush in the mainstream media. It's not entirely the media's fault with respect to the pictures. The Bush campaign stages these events for just these photo ops. They make sure that wildly supportive people are positioned in key spots and through devices like support pledges they insure that potential negative photo ops are eliminated.


Where I fault the media is when "newspeople" provide subliminal subjective analysis. The CBS Early Show cut to a correspondent who reported on the GOP generated flap about Kerry referring to Mary Cheney's homosexuality during the third debate. Despite that Mary is a publicly known homosexual advocate for that cause - and an adult - the "newsman" went on to fault Kerry for committing a "rookie mistake." This wording was no accident. The suggestion had to be "Can we afford a president during these troubled times who commits rookie mistakes?"

For these and many others, Bush is going to be extremely difficult to beat. His negative advertising has ratcheted up to the very top and, frustratingly, people are influenced by it.

Poor Kerry! The mainstream media is so out to get him! And you don't get much more mainstream than TIME Magazine.

Its not your imagination, and I have seen similar things on Faux news. As far as the comment that NYT is biased to the left in print, that is not necessarily true, and as pictures do speak louder than words, we have a lot to complain about. I really wish you would write an op-ed piece on this, and see if the NY times would publish it.

Kate,

I'd like to build up a larger sampling, and then I might try and put an article together. Thanks!

Help, Help, Help.... Please help US Elect Mr. Kerry President of USA .... This election is going to effect your lives too ... So please do what you can to help us .. I was thinking that the most effective thing might be a GIGANTIC WORLDWIDE peaceful campaign rally for Senator KERRY; like you all had to protest the Iraq War ...but all on same day in ever country of the world with lots of TV/ media coverage..... Think of it a million in England , a million in France, a million in Spain, a million in Portugal, a million in Italy, a million in Hungry, a million in Morocco, a million in Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Iraq (yes Iraq can have a voice here in USA too), Syria and on and on, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Argentina, all Africa, Australia, Iceland Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, the Stands, India, China, Japan, everywhere millions pouring into the streets peacefully Marching for President Kerry.... true or not, It is said that the United States is the Leader of the free world, and if that is even just partly true, then even if you don't have a vote in this election you CAN AND MUST HAVE a Voice in this Election ..... If you don't you may be more likely to have four more disastrous years of Bush ... Who is turning the USA into a Police State, if this Radical govt is allowed to continue it could come to resemble the Gestapo here in the US .... This election is critical to us in USA and also Critical to the WHOLE WORLD

Please, you can't be silent, it is imperative that you MOBILIZE quickly and take to the Streets ... there are only 18 days to the November 2nd ELECTION ... it is a close election, and only a few votes may decide our fate .... If you can quickly mobilize quickly and take to the streets all over the World and make sure you get on the news and that gets on the news here it could be a Critical to a significant number of people here who will then vote for Mr. Kerry ... If millions of people of ALL AGES take to the streets it will have a power effect .... There are millions of Americans who do not realize how much the rest of the world is against Mr. Bush and his reckless behavior and how much he has cost the USA and YOU the rest of the WORLD.

PLEASE MOBILIZE ....... PLEASE TAKE TO THE STREET..... MARCH, MARCH, MARCH

Who am I ...... just an old American who is baby sitting two 96yr./old parents in the deep south.

I'm taking great risk writing this PLEA to you, the rest of the world, I expect that the Republican Gestapo will tract me down and kill me .... they have made it against the law to criticize them .... so much for free speech .... these Bush people are very ruthless, mean, underhanded, nasty people ... they are destroying our American Democracy ........ This is a political COUP, a government take over ....... If they are allowed another term (4 yrs.) It will be very difficult up root them .... it HAS to be done NOW ...... everything they say is a LIE

I'm begging you to MOBILIZE and MARCH and HELP US. We must have a huge world wide event .... you can make a WORLD of difference. Organize plan and MARCH

PLEASE SEND THIS LETTER AROUND THE WORLD A BILLION TIMES. Every news paper, radio, every TV, every organization, every email contact, every friend, everybody. Translate it too, into your language and any other language you know. Pass it on. You can have an IMPORTANT effect.

This election is too important for you, the rest of the world to cross your fingers, hold your breath and sit on your duff, STAND UP, MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD ..... You were with us on 9/11 ... Please. please, please Express yourselves NOW..... There are many Americans who care about you and what you think .... The international community STANDING WITH US will send a powerful message that will be heard. Wear a blue ribbon on your arm from now till November 2nd.
Take to the streets and chant: KERRY, KERRY, KERRY ....Millions, billions WORLDWIDE Chanting KERRY, KERRY, KERRY peacefully campaigning for Mr. KERRY

Please get this letter published in every newspaper in the world every day until the election..... send it to everyone you know or ever knew! Deluge all media with this letter. If everyone sends this to just ten other people or organizations it will get every where! ACT NOW, PLEASE

Act Before NOVEMBER 2, 2004 thank you ...... One terrified American


Seems to me, the photographers got it just about right.

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