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Oct 11, 2004

In Which the NYTimes Photo Coverage Does Another Hatchet Job on Kerry, and our Guest Blogger Says "Enough Already!"


If you've been following this blog, you know that I've been keeping an eye on the photo coverage of Bush and Kerry for the past couple of months. In that time, it's been my sense that the coverage has been biased against Kerry. Primarily, what I have observed is a tendency for the photojournalism to reinforce the conception that Bush is strong and Kerry is weak. The visual bias seems to express itself in a number of consistent ways.

In general, the tendency is to portray Kerry in long shots, either in vast landscapes, or juxtaposed against extremely large objects, like airplanes. In either case, the effect is to make him look quite small and insignificant.

Another version of the bias is a shot where Kerry is shown alone, or with a few solitary figures around, usually people who are present only because they have to be. Often, these shots are taken at rallies. The fact that the crowd or the candidate's supporters are absent, however, creates a dissonance that's palpably jarring.

The third manifestation of the bias involves shots where Kerry either looks physically awkward or inept, or his figure is cropped as to show only a fragment of his body.

(Sometimes these shots are shown alone; other times they are juxtaposed with a picture of President Bush. The shots of Bush, in contrast, typically show him in front of adoring crowds, and are often taken from an angle that makes him look tall and imposing -- if not overtly so.)

Over the past couple months, I have done a number of entries capturing examples of these biased images. Surprisingly (because I generally have a high regard for the paper), most of the examples I've found have come from the New York Times.

These two photos (above) ran on the NYTimes website on Thursday. (In Friday's print edition, they appeared in the article: "Arms Report Spurs Bitter Bush-Kerry Exchange.") Late Thursday morning, I got an email from my occasional guest blogger, Karen. Upset about what she obviously felt was a disparity between the images, she fired off an email to the Managing Editor and the Public Editor of the Times. Admittedly, the message was strongly worded, especially the conclusion which suggested that the bias reflected a form of intimidation by the White House. The conclusion notwithstanding, however, Karen delineated the following concern:

At around 5 PM, I linked to the New York Times online to see a photo of John Kerry, seemingly alone in a meadow and about to fall off the edge of a platform. Your "tease" for the story indicated that he had just " said today that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were 'the last two people on the planet' who believed that the original rationale for war was right."

I scrolled down and was dumbstruck to see that the photo with which you countered poor isolated Kerry talking to an empty field was one of George W Bush waving from a stage to an overflowing crowd of supporters.

About five hours later, Karen received an email back from the Office of the Public Editor of the Times. It stated that:

"Mr. Okrent will be writing about The Times's coverage of Senator Kerry and President Bush soon. I will note your concerns to him as reference material."

She seemed to believe there would be a response....


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Wow, Michael--thanks for the plug! It's interesting to me, however, that the two photos you display (and I'm assuming those are the two photos I downloaded and sent you) are not actually the two photos they displayed. The Kerry photo they displayed was a cropped version of this one, wherein only two of the distant, ladder-climbing photogs were evident. The Bush photo I saw was completely different from the one above (although this is pretty remarkable). The one I saw was shot from above and slightly behind Bush onstage, as he reached out to a barrage of adoring supporters. Looks like the NYTimes has an endless supply of pro-Bush images!

I am writing to say that I agree with your assessment 100% about the photo bias being used by some media outlets.

I live in Kansas and our local paper has also been quilty of the same kind of treatment.
I noticed it several times over the last few months but until I read this article of yours I thought maybe I was just biased myself.

Thanks for the information about the Kansas coverage. If you send me links (and jpeg's), I'll see what I can do with it.

As you can tell, I'm especially in how the two candidates are shown side-by-side.

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