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Oct 18, 2004

Which Times Gives Kerry A Better Time? (Or: You Wouldn't Be Getting Statistical On Me Now, Would You?)

O.K., let's give credit where credit is due. The NYTimes (finally) did better, photo-wise, by Kerry on Sunday. They not only had this shot on the website...

(Kerry and crowd in the same picture)

...they also had a more unbiased shot of him in the dead trees edition.

Before we start passing out awards, however, I have to say that the Kerry shot in the right coast Times did not pay the level of respect as the same-day photo I found in the left coast Times. How do I know that? Because I created my own unscientific, yet statistical survey to better analyze Kerry photo bias(!).

So, let's look at the data, shall we? First, let's take a look at the image of Kerry's day in Ohio from the Sunday L.A. Times. Yes, there's John on page A30, at Mick and Larry Garringer's pumpkin patch, out in Jeffersonville. Larry doesn't look particularly thrilled, but Mick has a reception for John that would put the NYTimes to shame.


Now, let's do some analysis. First, let's take the criteria I've been bitching about for the past couple weeks now, and make a checklist out of it. Let's make one checklist to evaluate more "Intimate" photographs of the candidate, and another to evaluate "Crowd" shots.

Then, let's devise a simple scoring system so we can evaluate a particular photo based on our criteria. (I seem to recall something about this from "Research Methods.")


Great. Now, let's assign some numbers to that shot of JFK out there with the Garringer's.


(Unfortunately, we have to award a bunch of .5's, because Mick's showing the love a lot more than Larry is.)

So, we add up those numbers and the LA Times photo of Kerry earns a score of: 5

Now, let's take a look at the shot the NYTimes ran on page A19. Yes, the shot is a little dark and ominous, and Kerry is still not connecting interpersonally with anybody around him, but there finally are people around him (who aren't just guarding him or taking his picture), and they do seem to like him (or, at least, like what he's doing).


So, we run our evaluation of Kerry's NRA homage just outside Wakefield, and the NYTimes photo earns a score of: 2


So, all in all, it's not a bad day for Kerry. If our data can be taken even somewhat seriously, the candidate has actually scored a positive photo from the NYTimes.

...Let's not get carried away, though. Because, if I've figured this right, the shot in the L.A. Times is actually 60% more positive.

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


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Hopefully unbiased question: Given that the NYTimes actively endorses Kerry for president, by what mechanism do these unflattering photos get published? Rebel editors? Vast Right Wing Conspiracy? Rebel *photographers*? Feel free to opine, I'm not necessarily looking for "the truth" in this question.

Two more possibilities: Simple incompetence, or the editors actually believe that portrayals as an aloof icon are beneficial to President Kerry.

The last shot -- white folks with guns in the dead of night? Is the NYT trying to scare black people about Kerry? :)

There's a significant KKK contingent in southern Ohio. But I think Kerry has a lot more to gain from the black vote.

Good question.

I have a few theories:

1. The particular photographers assigned to the candidates (Stephen Crowley is one) has some (probably) unconscious attitudes toward Kerry that keeps getting expressed in his choice of shots.

2. The Times photo editors have the same types of preconceived attitudes.

3. The Times has been influenced by the clever/repetitious messages about Kerry (distant, out of touch, self-centered) and are echoing these themes while thinking that they are being more creative in their photo coverage.

4. Combination of all the above.

Like I said, it's a good question....

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