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May 30, 2008

Your Turn: Stereotypes From The White Corporate Media - Part 2


More questions about race from the latest Newsweek....

To the extent we can rely on Gawker as a reliable source, what we have, above left, is the version of this week's cover that Newsweek intended to run side-by-side with the version they ultimately ran.

Writes Gawker:

In this week's cover story about Barack Obama, Newsweek distills the conventional political wisdom into a bitter tonic of condescending campaign advice. The Democratic presidential candidate is praised for having "wisely taken to often wearing and American-flag lapel" and advised "it would help to be seen venerating your white mother and grandparents as well as your black father" and that "whites resent being accused of racism for remarks they regard as innocent," in case the black politician hadn't learned that yet. To illustrate this cynical lesson in realpolitik, the magazine had originally planned to run the suitably stark cover above and on the left, according to the person who supplied us with a copy. But that cover was "killed" late Friday night, we are told, and replaced with the bright and sunny front at right — a bizarre choice given the gritty lead article and stark collection of supporting pieces on racial division.

Gawker reports that the cover on the left, after having gone through multiple iterations, was finally good to go ...until the wife of the editor disapproved at the last minute, hastening its replacement.  (To read the rest of the scuttlebutt, here's the link.)

The personnel gossip aside, I'm even more convinced white corporate media is thoroughly lost as to how to engage the discussion of race.  Not to steal you thunder, but was the first cover somehow "too black" for management, hastening this almost literal white wash?  And then, how much of the problem had to do with the fact that the original version left "Us" (white folks) out? 

Anyway, I'm curious to get your read. 

(left image 1: can't be sure.  right image: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images for Newsweek.  Jun 2, 2008 issue)


Interesting stuff. For me it goes almost without saying that news media are completely incapable of reporting of discussing race. To be able to project a sense of pretentious arrogance leavened by heavy duty squirming is quite the accomplishment.

For the proposed and ultimate cover, the white-black certainly makes me wonder about literally whitewashing. But the expression is interesting: the prouder image on the right might also be part of it. If they are lecturing him about race, does it not make sense to present an affable Obama, one comfortable in the white light of the media, who is willing to be lectured to? The (at least) proud, maybe defiant image on the left is not the face of someone who needs or would likely be willing to be tutored about race. I would be shocked it the logic I just stated entered anyone's mind, but I would not be surprised if an image of a more pliable Obama, a whitewashed one, just seemed better given the content. "Yeah, America is pretty racist, just though you should know that Barack, and here is what to do about it." Why not imagine a relaxed and open to critique Obama?

The pic on the left carries a distinct air of mug shot ("turn left…") even if it was taken in a studio someplace. Mug shot generating activity is a news staple and a boon to the MBA newsroom — easy to find, easy to report.

Adopting a ponderous tone was Ted Baxter's way of telling his audience they were getting news. With Scottie McClelland making the rounds this week kicking the media in the other shin this time the corporate media can only dream of projecting Ted Baxter's credibility.

The left cover would have been a better choice because it challenges the viewer, providing a sort of litmus-test regarding their own opinions on the subject of race. Many will see a proud and determined man. People who subscribe to racist stereotypes are likely to see an angry (and defiant) black man, an image that has been used by demagogues to stoke fear throughout our history.

By comparison, the cover on the right is not only bland, with his smile and downcast eyes, it can also evoke an old racist stereotype, that of the deferential black man, hat in hand, standing aside to let the white people pass.

Another possible factor in Newsweek's choice which in addition to other considerations may have helped tip the balance... The cover on the right would require a lot less ink, thereby reducing printing cost.

Amazing that out of all possible shots, the one on the right has been chosen. The part of Obama's skull is obliterated...not a very good omen!

On the left- the proud, resolute black man. Uh-oh. On the right- let the purifying (white) sunshine in!

Can't underestimate the political motivations for this decision.

Angry Black Man vs Washed Out (Whited Out) Ineffective Black Man.

This is what the decision is made based on. Who do the folks at Newsweek back?
Could be Newsweek wants to help make Obama more acceptable to white america.
Could be they want to sanitize the entire issue of race.
Not the change is text from "The Race Factor" to "Race and Us". One confrontational and dark, the other open and welcoming.

But it also makes Obama appear in a dream like if it isn't really happening.

Great comparison of these photos. Thanks.

I prefer the image on the right. The softer lighting, and lighting from above suggest Obama as a Christ figure. I don't feel any racist intention in the photo on the right. That looks more like the Barack Obama I love to see- the confident, eloquent, dynamic man.

The photo on the left looks like a Miles Davis album cover. I agree that the photo on the right is a hopeful photo (ray of light, human smile, perhaps some laughter). But the problem is that the tag line makes it about race, which is why it doesn't work. Neither option is good. 'The Race Factor?' That turns the whole question of race relations into inside baseball for campaign politics. 'Obama, Race, and Us?' Those four words exclude Obama from Us, and turn race relations into something that is external to Us. It is codified condescension.

There is simply no good way to have this discussion on the cover of Newsweek. Race relations are really class relations made obvious, and who produces Newsweek?

When I first saw the cover at the right, my initial impression was a photo from the 1960s. The white shirt without a jacket, the dark tie, the black and white film just oozed 1960s politics, mimicking pictures of RFK on the campaign trail. (With the exception of the halo of light, though.) At the time I thought to myself that I kind of liked what I thought Newsweek was going for. However, now that I know they were using the photo to replace the left cover makes me wonder if my assumption of what they were going for was even remotely correct.

As a friend of mine is used to saying "Race isn't the biggest issue in the United States.... it's the only issue. Sometimes it looks like another issue but it isn't. It is always there and always at the root." Which makes sense as the issue of race was enshrined in the organic document of the country.

There is no "one" America and there is no "us" unless you count adherence to a tax code and having a favorite pro sports franchise evidence of a national culture. There is no "American" ethnicity. So Newsweek is not asserting, or asking, "Obama, Race and us" but rather is saying "Them and us." It would be very helpful I think to know the identities of the individuals at Newsweek involved in the process so "I" know who "they" are that make pronouncements about "us." It's the old "we" problem. "We" implies "me" and "We" don't have a race "problem." "You" might, but I don't, therefore no "we" as a plural first person. "I" know that some "theys" do. "I" know that some "theys" don't. It is the imprecise use of language [and the inherent imprecision of language in the first place" that makes these discussions feel circular, tautological or pointless. I prefer the sunny optimistic photo on the right as more representative of the individual "I" think I know. But no one ever knows anyone merely from images and words.

Ya know, I must be missing something. I can't see any problem with either of these pictures - they both look great to me. One is more formal and serious, the other more informal. That's all I can pick out. Are you guys talking about the fact that one is in color and the other is black and white? Toss me a bone here.

Newsweek again. It's always Newsweek, isn't it? Slanting the news, presenting it in some dirty-tricks way, putting its thumb on the scale. I used to think Time Magazine was bad, and of course it is. What happened to journalism in this country?

I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who is puzzled by or misunderstands or generally is afraid of Barack Obama, and I think that person would be unnerved by the photo on the left and relaxed by the photo on the left. Both shots are completely bereft of context, which is interesting in and of itself, too, but that said, the original is such a tight shot, it puts him right up in your face. If you are scared of people with brown skin, I think that's a problematic photograph for you. The other shot isn't much better in terms of what it conveys (tend to agree with those who see it as a little too wimpy/happy), but at least he's not appearing menacing.

"and relaxed by the photo on the left."

Oops, right, the photo on the right...I can keep the two straight, apparently...

Better choice. Besides if they build him up, they can sell more copies on his rise AND decline. God I hate the media sometimes. I'm sure they'll keep the "boogie-woogie" cover on file just dying to use it. Why so polar? Why? All the time, they can only incite fear or paint him as a Kennedesque demigod from a mythical black-and-white past...the duality. Pure evil or angelic.

Aren't there other stories they could tell us visually that have a more nuanced and realistic take on the subject? Why don't they even try anymore? I think that's the real story of Obama, Race, and Us.

I think the one on the right is actually Frank Sinantra.

Newsweek thinks too much of themselves to believe they can tackle this issue.

Much much much talk talk talk about very very very little; right up there with the endless pseudo-psychological discussions by blabbing heads on teevee about 'body english' and all the rest of it.

Neither of these covers says anything whatsoever to me except the usual bleat from Newsweek: "buy this shit or we'll kill your [dog, candidate, remaining braincells]... why not make it green? chartreuse? lavender? No color of the rainbow can excise the obvious reality that all three of our candidates suck eggs, whether they promise a moon's worth of change, nonexistent "savoir" or (god knows) at least four more years of prevarication, manipulation, obfuscation, and in the end, deep painful brain-sodomy for anyone who hasn't already thrown their fucking television set out the window.

i expect better from this site.

WHY, WHY, WHY are you in the US so obsessed with the colour of people's body organs???

This focus on the most false of all concepts, 'race,' serves nothing other than to divert people from the core issues of their lives.

Take the unnecessary discussion skin colour out of ALL arguments and you will see that those arguments cease to have any value.

"Race" is a political construct and maintaining that construct is critical to keeping people from focusing on the truths of US politics - any politics.

"Race" and its ugly sister "Religion" need to quickly find their graves and go there without futher delay.

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