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May 31, 2006

Getting The Kerry Treatment

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The NYT is at it again.  Following last week's front page attack on Hillary Clinton, we have another prominent article designed to undermine and negatively stereotype a Democratic woman who stands to acquire more visibility and authority in Washington.

What are the trifling details yesterday's front page article on Nancy Pelosi put into play to demonstrate the Congressperson's deficiency?  Is it the fact she shells pistachio nuts with her teeth?  Or, that she couldn't identify a curly fry?  (...Of course, we know how  representing San Francisco is already a damnable offense.)

The article primary attacks Pelosi's on her speaking ability, using her elocution and lack of expository finesse as a vehicle to question her competence as well as her politics.  For example, it equates her -- completely out of the blue -- to Jesse Jackson ("She repeated Jesse Jackson-like alliterative sound bites in halting un-Jackson-like cadences") simply for stumbling over an alliteration.  (Oh, and what about the comparison to Condi as a woman who speaks with substance?)

I leave the article to you to further appreciate the textual aspersions.  What primarily interests The BAG, however, is the way the accompanying photo drives home the article's embedded, if not-so-subtle negative stereotypes.

If you break down the article's assertions, it reinforces a number of key propositions or associations about Pelosi.  According to the textual picture, Pelosi is: lacking in gravitas; over-scripted; uncommanding; and a rich woman with a penchant for junk food who attracts speculation about her makeup, clothes and face.


Considering those terms, look at the file photo chosen out by The Times.  The image reinforces a number of these assumptions, particularly the ability to be taken seriously and to speak extemporaneously.  Also, note how the lack of connection to the person she's addressing turns her into an "oddity" and an object for examination.


During the '04 election, John Kerry was subject to many of the same pictorial devices.  Whereas Bush was constantly shown front and center, for example, pressing the flesh and making direct eye contact with John Q. Public, Kerry was often depicted at the edge of small groups consisting of body guards, reporters or aides.  Often, those shots would also show him "failing" to make interpersonal contact.  (Example 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Although the photo doesn't reproduce as well here, Pelosi's audience Pelosi is mostly either disparaging or negating.


The other significant attribute  of this shot is the presence of the wires and equipment. Pelosi is specifically captured "out of context," photographed for print in a setting "dressed" for TV.  Deprived of the customary focus afforded a speaker giving a televised statement, the image also undermines Pelosi's credibility and stature.

Of course, there's nothing unusual about spinning.  Where the trouble occurs is when the press becomes overly susceptible to it.  Lately, one has to wonder why the MSM seems so hostile to the Dems, and especially threatened by the prospect of Democratic women coming to power.

(image: Alex Wong/Getty Images.  May 30, 2006.  New York Times. p. A15)


I haven't read the article, but I noticed that in this picture and the one you posted before, the picture is taken from below, which isn't usually the most attractive view - especially for a 50- or 60-year old woman. In the other photo, the center of the photo was her chin, so much of the bottom half was her neck.

What I notice about this photo is the two women in the background, who look like they're not impressed, maybe thinking, "yeah, right..." to whatever she's saying. The one in the center looks like she's tapping her foot and annoyed that she has to wait. It may be an aide or something - or maybe just someone in a hurry who wants to walk by and can't.

ummabdulla, I noticed the background, too. To me it looks like the two women and the man are probably her aides and are waiting impatiently for her to wrap up her comments, again!

Also, it's really not a flattering take of her, in any way. She looks overstuffed, but I doubt she is plump. Her expression is one of being caught by surprise, although I doubt she just happened to walk by. And why didn't she put down that purse? It's rather too large, so maybe it's a briefcase. I'd like to know the back-story of this shot because it seems to be a very sloppy one to choose as a illustration to an article.

Can you imagine a paragraph of an article in the NYT reading:

Mr. Frist can struggle at times to give the air of the gravitas that powerful men like Dick Cheney and George Bush do, both friends and adversaries say. He can appear tentative and overscripted in interviews, with a tight smile and large, expressive eyes that can leave an impression of nervousness.

When was a paragraph like that written about a man? And they were very careful to quote Sen. Barney Frank, an out gay man. I challenge you all to read that article and substitute Tom DeLay or Frist or any republican male, to see how ridiculous it is. If they are going to criticize someone's grammar and diction, they have a very good example at the top of the heap that they keep ignoring.

Remember how Michael deaver orchestrated all the visual hoopla surrounding Reagan? The Demos just need to get their Hollywood friends to hang around during these events and stage manage the press, who are nothing but sheep, anyway. It's the details that will allways get you in the end, and the Republicans have known that since Reagan taught them. Too bad it has to be about "appearances" once again, instead of substance.

How lonely it must be to be a serious politician, male, or female.

Your analysis here is particularly astute. This looks like a hit.

What strikes me is the makeshift nature of her "podium". There is nothing solid there. It looks juryrigged. Where a real podium gives one stature and importance and having microphones waved into your face gives one importance and immediacy this setup just looks like a hacked together bit of no importance.

Am I so naive? I never thought that "throwaway" images could be so loaded.

Well, no matter unflatteringly she's photographed, Pelosi will always look better than her lowlife Republican counterpart, Dennis Hastert. And she'll never look half as ridiculous as Katherine Harris. True, the mainstream media visually marginalizes Democratic leaders, but Democrats are becoming (or are already) the marginalized center. Obviously, the Republicans are trying to make out like Pelosi's another Hillary in an attempt to get right wing voters to the polls in November. But Pelosi's ordinariness might be her greatest strength. She's comes across as a typical middle-aged woman. What's so bad about that?

I agree with BAG's assessment of the article's tone and the photos' editorial impact. It seems to be asking: is a 66-year-old "Italian-American grandmother" the best the Democratic party can do? For real? With everything that's happened in the last 6 years; with the chance to regain the house for the first time since `95... Ms. Pelosi is what Liberals are supposed to be getting excited about? Come on, Speaker of the House is a serious role. It's the face of the Party. There's no one...sexier?

Maybe the MSM has been critical lately of leading Democrats. But I think it has identified an historic opportunity to push the Liberal agenda further than the Usual Suspects would be willing to take it. The Democrats have a chance to infuse fresh blood and fresh ideas into the political dscussion. I don't think the criticism should be taken so personally. I think it's meant to encourage Liberal readers to think outside the box.

(Sorry, Ms. Pelosi. I'm sure you are very nice. And that you make tasty cookies.)

We know that the Times' atrocious coverage of Whitewater and then its support for the hounding and impeachment of the President over a different matter was attributable in substantial part to the personal jealousy and resentment of pretentious nobody Howell Raines for Bill Clinton.

So, who does the conservative son of a Chevron CEO, Mr. Bill Keller, hate? Democrats? Liberals? Women? All of the above?

When I see this picture, I think of a news photographer fresh on the scene, trying to find a new angle, something different, but having no idea what he's doing.

I wonder if you'd like a little project, a game... an exercise if you will... an exercise in scientific discovery, the since of visual perception. As you already peruse an obscene number of photos it seems, this probably wouldn't be much of a burden.

I propose that you create a standardized routine for judging the positive and negative attributes of a photo and score the photos (oh wait, you've already created that system). Okay, I propose you streamline your system and cut it down to maybe a dozen positive and negative values (equal +/-) of the most important features and publish your list. Then pick a time frame, say, Sept. 1 through voting day, a few candidates you think will be most affected by media POV and their opponents and then a specific number of news rags to cover every day. Collect the images and judge them all on the criteria. Publish the images and let your readers score them for themselves and then towards voting day 9maybe 2 weeks beforehand, publish the score breakdown with each photo so that readers can compare and make sure your not biasing your judgment. The idea being - to see if you can predict the outcome simply by the media's "staging" of the candidates.

Just a proposition... bit of effort though, but interesting in my eyes.

I respectfully disagree with El Lobe de Peanut Butter. I like the pure reaction you use now to analyze. After all, this is not science class. Being and image man myself, I am sure you do have a system you use to analyze images. If you did not, you could not know to assess space, scale, and the many implications of props, etc.

I feel the writeup on this image was great.

Although, simply to point it out, there is at least a Low Angle used to film her, which connotes power (over the lens' POV). Yet, given her eyeline, as you note, this usual boost in stature seems to be negated. Actually, I think this is the first time I've seen the low angle's method of bestowing power upon the subject annulled so well!

I think The BAG has spotlighted her images before, but this photo from Melina Mara's project "Changing the Face of Power: Women in the U.S. Senate" is a good counterpoint to the Pelosi image:

Boys' club, indeed.

I have to disagree in part with marysz. I think the strategeryizers in the republican party are puffing up Hillary to push her into the forefront of contenders for '08. IMHO the coverage given to Pelosi is more like that given to Kathryn Harris, a republican that the right finally sees as a millstone and is trying to destroy before she does them any more damage. Could it be the right fears Pelosi more than Hillary?

Jesus God, you people own the NYT, and you're complaining? Reading the Times is like reading a fax from Howard Dean. Stop your paranoid bitching. It's ridiculous. You people are a fucking joke. This is almost as bad as reading a William Rivers Pitt screed from Democratic Underground.

The person responsible for starting this petulant, paranoid thread about poor, poor Nancy Pelosi should be beaten with a wet towel by the 72 Doe Eyed Virgins, then shunned by polite society.

On top of everything else, is the NTTimes insulting Rep. Pelosi, making "fun" of her, even ridiculing her, because she is a powerful woman who is not from New York?

Strangely, I subscribe to the ideas of both Peanut Butter and Nezahualimón.  I've always been interested in a more formal, methodological approach to assessing candidate bias.  If you we're here in '04, you would have seen this little table I was experimenting with.  For key '06 Senate races, and most likely the next Presidential campaign, I might go with something similar.  (Also, I particularly like the suggestion about making it a group effort.)  OTOH, I'm always wary of becoming too formulaic. Seems like one thing that can really hurt a blog is redundancy -- something I'm always concerned about.  In that regard, its nice to keep trying to look at and for different things in the pics, and to almost intentional discard whatever "methods" start to feel too familiar.

...and when you put it that way, i can see the point.

Clutter to the left. Clutter to the right. And a clear track of light down the hall where the tall windows give a promise of outdoors. My eye snags briefly on the white paper held by "background woman", but then makes its escape.


Was the photographer at all interested in what was being said (nuanced politics), or was his mind upon escape (lunch, cigarette, date, whatever)? If the photographer assigns equal importance to the wires and steno pads as to the speaker, what weight should we give her words? Is everything just clutter?

Salon has an article by Garrison Keillor about how the GOP is trying to tie Pelosi to gays in order to defeat her. Seems they can't stand the very thought of a woman in a leadership position. So, was NYT just giving them a head start or following orders???

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