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Jun 22, 2005

Ed Klein and Matt Drudge's Stolen Moments

Ed Klein's Attack Book, "The Truth About Hillary," and Matt Drudge's Profile of It, Blatantly Misuse a News Photo to Slander the Clintons.  Doing Some "Photojournalistic Forensic Work," the BAG Takes Apart the Propaganda and Breaks Down the Image.


What if you are a former Newsweek editor and a former editor in chief of The NYT Magazine (which means your name these days is associated with a lot of formerly) and you decide to cash in by writing a book slandering Hillary Clinton, but you really couldn't bother doing much original investigation or research? 

Besides rehashing a lot of old information -- much of it either unsubstantiated or already discredited -- maybe you decide to do a little character assassination based on gossip, some known sleaze and some well worn sexual stereotypes.  One thing you set out to do -- I'm assuming, to get a rise out of the tabloid set -- is to paint the former first lady as a lesbian because she can't  keep her husband's full attention, and because she knew or knows lesbians.  Playing up the theme, you figure you could extend the stereotype into the political arena in order to conclude that the potential presidential candidate is personally and politically frigid.   

To help drive your point home, you decide you could use a couple pages of pictures in this book.  Of those photo pages, you conclude at least one must show the husband allegedly consorting with other women.  You're convinced that once readers see these pix, they will also realize that a Senator who can't even manage her own household could never manage a whole country.   

So, you find one shot taken at a formal dinner in which a young lady is standing a little too close to The First Squeeze.  To really "drive the nail," though, you pull out the more damning evidence -- your smoking gun.


With this second shot, you provide incontrovertible evidence of the husband acting illicitly, thus rejecting his wife.  Because the picture is so uncomplicated in its implication of guilt, you might even feel it provides the world a contemporary update on the man's incessant affairs (not to mention, the amorality practiced and condoned by both he and his spouse). 

You label the picture: "Bill mouth-kissing a supporter." 

Of course, you have no idea who this woman is, but you decide to call her "a supporter" to subtly suggest that this event is about him, and that she -- as a "supporter" -- is in attendance specifically for him (regardless of what the hat says).  Of course, you are also pleased this shot is a tight close up.  Because, even though there are eyes (and cameras) all around, the "central action" is so hot and the surrounding information is so constricted that the suggestion of intimacy takes precedence over all other possible interpretations.   

Then, with the release date for your handiwork just two days away, your publicity folks have a great idea. They decide to feed your slam dunk "evidence" to Matt Drudge, who only has the largest right-wing internet following on the planet. Before the image makes the bandwaves however, it gets a little preparation.


For one thing, it gets blown up (this is the actual size from Drudge) so it has the feel of something shot by a seedy private investigator with a telephoto lens. Also, it shows up pretty dark. So dark, in fact, that it carries the connotation of both a stolen moment and an intentionally illicit act. 

Of course, the way its been severely cropped (so that the formerly horizontal image is now vertical), it not only forces consideration of these two as a couple, it freezes the moment in time. In that way, it implies that this moment very easily could have lasted for a good ten or twenty seconds; that the people around are making a specific point of not paying attention for that long: and that this image must somehow have the kind of significant or enduring value that people tend to immortalize in photo albums or picture frames.

Just to help out, the Drudge piece also pumps up the idea of a personal connection.   Of course, the title of the Drudge piece (BOOK CLAIM: HILLARY HUMILIATED AS BILL HAS NEW AFFAIRS...) reinforces that suggestion. The write-up does too, by leading with the picture, then failing to mention it until the conclusion of an entire paragraph alleging that Mr. Clinton has been having an ongoing affair with a woman who lives near his home. That way, in reading that next single line:

"The book presents a photo of the former president 'mouth-kissing' an unidentified woman."

one has to actually think a second to realize the woman in this photo is likely not that neighbor.

Of course, when you shape the context and the presentation of a picture for these highly partisan and manipulative ends, there is no way you would want anyone to see such images in their larger -- and more innocuous -- implications.

For example, you would never want anyone to know that this image, rather than taking place in the darkened corner of a hotel ballroom, for example, was taken outdoors, in broad daylight, in the middle of 100,000 people, where the headliner of the event was someone other than the former President.


You also wouldn't want to mention that the former President, supposedly always on the make, was in a weakened condition, having to pull himself together to participate in this giant Kerry rally in Philadelphia, and to get involved in the Presidential campaign in its last week, following some slightly complicated heart surgery.

Given the subtle suggestions one photo can make regarding things like tone, timing, setting and intention, you would probably prefer that people also not see this color image that the BAG profiled back in October (which I posted because I thought that was a cheap shot). 


When you look at this version, it must have been taken seconds before the shot above. 

One thing you can see here is just how many people are looking at Clinton. That being the case -- as well as the fact that at least two newswire photographers were clustered nearby, trained on the ex-President -- it's hard to imagine this episode involved much lingering. You have to also question the overt sexuality of the moment, considering the two girls in back -- the one in the green and the one in the white -- hardly seem to register a reaction. (To be fair, of course, it would help to have access to an "after shot" to inspect for something like a raised an eyebrow.)

Besides raising questions about how private and intimate the book's picture is, this second shot (or more accurately, the two pictures together) offer some much needed context concerning the time element. Considering the rate at which the hand behind the woman's hat bends or the older man below is moving from left to right (even factoring the slightly different orientations of the two cameras), you start to realize that events here -- supposedly fixed in posterity -- are actually taking place in instants.

Beyond the privacy and timing factors though, there is also the question of what exactly is going on. Of course, the book caption (as well as public knowledge of Clinton's weakness for women) leaves him unanimously convicted of making the move. Given that it's the women's hand on Clinton, however, isn't it possible she pecked him before he knew what was going on? (Granted, it's going to look the worse because he's not the kind to pull away.)

By the way, did you notice the women with the dark hair just to the left of the "supporter" in the book's picture who seems unaccounted for in the color shot? (I'm assuming she is blocked out due to the angle.) Examining the book's photo, however, it appears that Clinton is surrounded at close range by three women of likely similar age and even sense of style (the third represented by the forehead and the highlighted hair).

Really, the problem with this photo is that it pulls for one very damning explanation implying a very specific set of motives. When you combine the power of the immediate associations, the character weakness in Clinton, and the overwhelmingly successful (and, obviously, ongoing) morality campaign against both the Clintons, even the most fair minded person is lead to conclude that Bubba is guilty here beyond a reasonable doubt.

As a result, one would never stop to consider a more innocent possibility (even if the evidence made it infinitely more credible). For example, what if the woman was the instigator here, and she was just putting on a show for her friends?

(Or, if you want to really let your mind wander a bit, what if she was a nice conservative girl, and she was actually putting on a show for the cameras?)

(Update 6/22/05 1:43pm PST:  I had no idea before posting this analysis that the photographer, Jay L. Clendenin had renounced Ed Klein and Matt Drudge's use of the photo in question as salacious and completely out of context. For more on his comments, as well as the continuous series of frames that give a true context to this image, see the mediabistro piece here.  Thanks to BAGreader Chrissy.)

(mage 1: The Truth About Hillary : What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President by Edward Klein photos: Alecsey Boldeskul/Zuma Press and Jay. L. Clendenin/Polaris. image 2: Jay. L. Clendenin/Polaris in Ed Klein, op. cit.; image 3: Jay. L. Clendenin/Polaris. June 20, 2005 in The Drudge Report; image 4: unidentified source. DailyKos
entry. 10/25/2004; image 5: Gerald Herbert/ AP)


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Nice analysis! Below is an article that dicsuses the photograph with the actual photographer. The photo was taken a split second after she gave him a kiss on the cheek.>

Not only is it beyond silly that he posted the picture but its even more outrageous that anyone actually believes his interpretation of it. What a joke!

oops, that should have read:

Not only is it beyond silly that Drudge posted the picture but its even more outrageous that anyone actually believes his interpretation of it. What a joke!

It's hard to believe so many people do not function in reality, and live by their delusions. And such ugly delusions! This would be harmless except that the current leadership is no longer functioning in reality either. Fantasy thinking of such ugliness has finally grown to dangerous proportions, and is giving rise to its opposite, thank heaven. The Wonkette blog has posted a link to some interesting pics of Bush's "bald head fetish" which is pretty interesting, and more reality based.

By the way, Bag, thanks for searching out all these photos. Real investigative journalism!

Great research and analysis, Mr. Bag.

It is hard to believe that the woman kissed Clinton on the cheek, looks like she was aiming for those lips.

Looks like it is possible that her hat would wind up getting knocked askew in all of the excitement.

One wonders what the woman was trying to achieve.

And, in a stretch, but not an inconceivable stretch, one might wonder if she was an agent of the right-wing, on a mission to add another piece in a permanent record that serves to discredit the Clinton family- and by extension the Democratic leadership.

I think Drudge is feeling the heat of competition from the blogosphere and going with this sort of thing to boost his flagging viewership numbers.

I have to disagree with TheBAG that, even if the photo and its interpretation are 100% accurate, the photo is in any way "incontrovertible evidence" that former President Clinton was "acting illicitly, thus rejecting his wife". It's another fake scandal where they can't even be bothered to create incriminating evidence. Has the whole process be come so stylized that good documentation is considered an irrelevant waste of time?

Really, if this is the worst they could find on Clinton, it sounds like the wife has really tightened the screws on him.

This piece published today in NYMagazine on-line is a very good summary of the real story. It features the key series of photos Jay L. Clendenin shot in Philadelphia demonstrating that this wasn't a kiss on the mouth at all. It also characterizes a conversation NYM had with Klein and the publisher of the book. Of course, it wasn't easy for Klein to respond because he had one foot in his mouth. I wrote to Clendenin last night asking him a series of questions about the image. Obviously, NYMag had a little more pull than the BAG. Clendenin, though, said he had no knowledge that Klein had even used his shot.

I understand Clendenin's sense of offense, but I do wonder how Klein obtained the photo in the first place. (This was one of the questions in my so far unanswered email.) If this photo was offered for sale on the Polaris website (Clendenin's agency), however, then the photographer had to know someone might obtain rights to it. It seems he would also have realized that the particular still would misconstrue the reality of the situation.

I don't get the whole thing. It's a nice picture of a woman, for whatever reason, being friendly towards Bill Clinton: after all, he's good looking, physically commanding and an ex-president. A kiss is nice. What's the big deal? Unmarried men and women sometimes go around kissing each other in public nowadays. Drudge has never done it? If not, maybe he should try, to start with a man. He's a real bastard because he knows as well as we do the picture shows no 'incorrect' behavior on the part of either the woman or Clinton. Drudge is as sleazy as they come. Looking for some perspective?: see Wonkette's pictures of Bush going around kissing women and stroking men's bald heads. The worst part is that the Clintons, including their daughter, are again being attacked and the evil accuser is getting off relatively easily. And I'm not a Clinton apologist. I see that Klein has recently 'distanced' himself from the 'rape allegations', but he has already insidiously planted the seed of doubt. The lesbian allegations are in the same category. Evidently Klein finds something wrong about sex between women. The publisher of this book deserves to be prosecuted and persecuted for all the filth: the bucks are rolling in, the publicity too. Who ever knew who this Klein gudy was until now? Good presentation, Bag, thanks.

Has anyone asked Clinton about this? He would probably have a better sense of what happened a la overzealous fan vs. Republican plant.

I'm sorry, but her mouth is by his chin. Some "kiss".

Yeah, if it were a full-on mouth kiss the bill of the hat would have to be pushed much farther over than it is.

Then again, given the false perspective of telephoto lenses she could be standing three feet away from him.

Bag,this is the first time I have visited your site, it wont be the last.With all that is going on in the world, the Clintons having been the most investigated couple(monetarily and in hours)in the entire history of mankind.They can't be critized for policy,just more cheap shots from Rove Inc.Thank you again from nowhere New Mexico

Scorpio: "I'm sorry, but her mouth is by his chin. Some 'kiss.'"

Either way, mouth or cheek, we're seeing the action in transition. Unless we expect the woman's lips to make a quantum leap between her face and their intended target.

Quentin: "Unmarried men and women sometimes go around kissing each other in public nowadays. Drudge has never done it?"

Someday, when cracking eggs over strangers' heads becomes polite practice, Drudge will finally come out of his shell. So to speak.

Another thing that adds to the "seedy private investigator" feel is the faked greenish infrared like tone. Many new security cameras shoot in infrared, and have a similar greenish tone.

Drudge, so notorious for bad oral hygiene, has never in fact experienced an open-mouth kiss. We can, therefore, forgive his innocent journalistic mistake.

you have way too much time on your hands!

you have way too much time on your hands!

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