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21 posts categorized "Campaign '04"

Oct 30, 2008

BAGnewsSALON: Campaign 04 vs 08: Are We Seeing The End Of Identity Politics?

This election edition of the BAGnewsSALON, an on-line discussion series, included moderator Cara Finnegan; producer Ida Benedetto; host Michael Shaw; professors Paul Lester; Nathan Stormer and John Lucaites; photographers Alan Chin, Nina Berman and Aric Mayer, as well as members of the BAGnewsNotes readership. It took place on Thursday evening, October 30th, from 5-6:30 p.m. PST, 8-9:30 p.m. EST.

“ The arc of my political coverage has been "demographic" -- in, who are the activists, the people who go to rallies? Most people, of course, are happy to watch it on TV. So who shows up?” -- Alan Chin
Considering the images above, we came to this discussion with the question:

While recent American elections have been governed by identity politics and moral concerns, Barack Obama's campaign has marked a notable shift toward an inclusive national project of change. As a result, do we read these photographs -- taken by BAGnewsNotes contributer Alan Chin in the final weeks of the '04 campaign -- in a different light than we did before?


Conversation about Alan Chin’s photographs from the 2004 election revealed shifting expectations about identity politics as well as continued concerns about enfranchisement and participation in the 2008 election. Discussants in this BAGnewsSalon often saw the visual landscape of the 2004 elections as awkwardly theatrical in comparison to the 2008 election. They commended the recent campaign for more nuanced treatment of issues like religion and socialism, even if others issues, such as gender, were disappointingly caricatured.


Bible Image:

Alan Chin: what I liked about this image were the eyeglasses case and the ladies' handbag, obviously belonging to one of the older African-American congregates. ...It evoked for me, the older, civil-rights era, sense of religion being a politically progressive as opposed to right-wing dominated issue.

Cara Finnegan: Yes, especially in the context of 2004 you would think church=republican, but no.

Aric Mayer: I remember the 2004 election as giving a cartoon quality to religion in general. This time around there seems to be a much more diverse and nuanced conversation around faith.

Michael Shaw: Yes,  in this election, we liberals wouldn't even think to make fun of the bible as a symbol.

Young Girl:

Cara Finnegan: I keep thinking "failed youth vote?" even though my recollection of the numbers is that the youth vote was very high in 04.

Nathan: Her face has an energy to it. We will try again.

Cuban with Sign

Alan Chin: The guy holding the Communist sign is a Cuban-American, clearly part of a conservative community, but he's gone over the top.

Cara Finnegan: It/him/the sign is so coarse it seems silly, especially from 2008 perspective and obama/socialism stuff

Alan Chin: kind of like McCain calling Obama a socialist

Paul Lester: Socialism is the new communism!

Nathan Stormer: Even for 2004 this kind of stuff was just looney.

Cara Finnegan: gets at the question of identity, though: for whom is this an issue?

Alan Chin: in 04 it was looney. in 08 it's gone mainstream!

Early Voting In Car

Nathan Stormer: As a "demographic," the value of her vote is surely against Republicans. I see her voting as the front line in the struggle over effective suffrage right now.

Ida Benedetto: It's also possibly a literacy issue. The ability to read was a huge issue with who could vote in the 20's and 30's. Now it's technological literacy that's an issue.

Michael Moore

Michael Shaw: I'm really proud of the Dems that I can't think of an '08 corollary for the MM image -- at least, not immediately.

Republican with Bush Signs

Cara Finnegan: Many folks are arguing the conservative coalition is cracking up, so maybe what we're seeing in this guy is the beginning of the end.

For a transcript of the full discussion, please drop us an email.

Dec 29, 2004

Parting Shots

I thought I would enter into evidence one last example of the media's distortion of John Kerry.  This shot is from Time Magazine's end-of-the-year issue. 

To summarize my own thoughts, I can't deny that Kerry, at times, is a man of two minds.  For much of the media to have so automatically adopted Karl Rove's over-simplistic caricature of him, however, reflected poorly on the press, and did a disservice to the electorate. 


(image: Diana Walker for TIME)

Oct 28, 2004

Watch Your Back


Given my weeks of hammering about the New York Times political photo coverage, my occasional guest blogger, Karen, alerted me to this shot from today's NYTimes on-line. It's the first shot I've seen in the Times (at least since the debates) that captures the thin-skinned Bush we saw on television.

While doling out credit to the NYTimes for publishing a more critical shot of Bush, it must be noted that the photo comes from an outside agency. To date, the two photographers they've had assigned to the candidates, Ting-Li Wang and Steven Crowley, have been incapable of capturing anything close to Bush's true nature.


Unequal TIME (Or: Dairy State Low Light)

Here's my latest example of photojournalistic character assassination. This composition was the lead feature in Time Magazine's Wednesday on-line campaign photo gallery.

Notice how Bush is always on top in these juxtapositions?


(If you're familiar with my system, I score it: Bush 5, Kerry -7.)


Oct 21, 2004

Bush Unplugged

The main question underlying my ongoing critique of the NYTimes' political photo coverage is, Why does Kerry keep coming off worse than Bush?

One angle to consider (pardon the pun) is that practical factors play a significant part. For example, one of my visitors last week suggested that the Bush campaign is so highly managed, it's really not possible to come up with unguarded shots. I think the reasons are probably more complex, but I don't dispute it's harder to truly capture Bush. (After all, isn't that why the debates were so unique?)


If Bush is that "locked down," then the NYTimes went the extra mile yesterday. Besides redeeming themselves with a more respectful shot of Kerry, they actually caught Bush with the curtain pulled back.


In this picture, a member of Bush's goon squad is having to pry a supporters hand off the President's arm. What interests me is how the robo-Bush keeps going (or posing), business as usual. That's probably because of his absolute, ever-present concern to maintain appearances from the "approved" site lines.

Oct 20, 2004

The Kerry Album: NYTimes Returns To (De)Form

On Monday, the NYTimes offered respectful photo coverage of John Kerry. (They actually ran a JFK version of the "candidate in the adulating crowd" shot --which is almost a daily staple for Bush.)

The improvement, however, only lasted a day.

This (Tuesday) morning, the two candidates appeared on page A19 (with the Bush shot, once again, higher up the page). Because I love captions, and because I was trying to spare the harangue, I started thinking of titles -- like "The Ego Has Landed" or "Divine Intervention."

If the Times said they were just trying to be creative, I could almost buy that. But, what happened to the (at least somewhat) level playing field? Maybe their rationale had to do with an attempt at abstract impressionism. But, pairing the President with the American eagle ("Two Beaks Are Better Than One?") is not nearly as weird as what they did with (or, you could say, to) Kerry.



This shot of Kerry, far from pulling for recognizable (not to mention, respectful) themes, is just bizarre. And the negative connotations are hard to avoid. The one (obvious?) reading I make has John Q. Public reaching out to shake hands with Kerry, and the candidate -- already maintaining a huge distance -- shunning the offer. (And laughing about it!)

At the risk of redundancy, I have to say this shot not only reinforces the Kerry photo motifs I've been protesting recently, it express almost every one. Now, that's impressive.

(My rating scorecard:)


Oct 19, 2004

Where The Buck Never Stops: More Media Bias


This lead for Newsweek's on-line campaign coverage is a good example of how the media gives Bush a free pass.

In presenting two articles comparing the candidates qualifications, it contrasts Bush the CEO with Kerry the Senator. Whether or not anyone has thought it through, juxtaposing Kerry's twenty year Senate history alongside Bush's White House tenure has the consequence of of implying equivalency. That's interesting because Bush has had little or no background managing a business -- especially in comparison to how long Kerry has been a senator. (And that's even with credit for a term as governor of Texas.)

However, that's just the beginning.

The Kerry heading accuses the Senator of a gross problem with his professional competency. If the intention of the magazine was to critically evaluate the Senator's record, that's fine. As an article featured as a companion piece to the Bush story, however, the Kerry charge is made with no offsetting question about the President's capabilities. If Newsweek were subjecting the President to equivalent scrutiny, the Bush lead would have to deal with whether the American shareholders felt Bush deserved rehiring. Instead, Kerry is being judged for his actions while the decision on Bush is completely random.

Given what's going on in the text, the choice of picture is interesting. For people who watched the debates, Bush was revealed as someone more inexperienced and seemingly less qualified than Kerry. That being so, you'd never know from this. The photo completely recasts Bush as the dominant figure. He's firmly in charge, holding down the center, shifting Kerry leftward. (Imagine that!) With the extended jaw, the forceful, squared up stance, and his arm and hand controlling Kerry's hand, once again, Bush is the portrait of strength.

And, of course, he's having no trouble doing the talking.

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.")

Oct 17, 2004

There They Go Again: Saturday's Installment of the NYTimes' Kerry Campaign Photo Coverage

Here's my mark-up of the latest NYTimes Kerry shot (Saturday's paper --page A11).

I give them credit for finally including a group of people in a photo of Kerry. However, the fact these people are isolated in the background; the secret service guys bear no personal connection to the candidate; the mysterious hand is getting no attention; and Kerry is looking off in the distance reinforces (once again) the impression of Kerry as detached, narcissistic and out of touch.


Oct 15, 2004

Defining the NYTimes' Photo Bias: (Or, Kerry Still Getting Short End of the Pic)

Because I've been on something of my own campaign regarding (what I see as) bias in the NYTimes campaign photo coverage, I thought it might help to be more specific about it.  I was thinking, for example, how I would lay it out to the Times editors.

So here's some criteria:

1.  In juxtaposing photos of Kerry and Bush on either the same web or newspaper page, photos of Bush often show him either physically engaged with, or interacting with an admiring crowd, while photos of Kerry often depict him alone (or in the presence of people delegated to be there) where the presence of the crowd or audience is only (eerily) implied.  (In the print edition, by the way, the Bush photo is usually run above the Kerry photo -- as it is today.)

In photo's of Kerry (whether juxtaposed or not), this is what often occurs:

2.  There is a photo of Kerry in which the camera angle creates an effect that reduces him in stature.  This typically occurs by showing  Kerry from a distance.   This effect might accentuate the size of objects closer to the camera, making Kerry look no bigger than a podium, or even an apple.

It can occur by showing him in the foreground of a much large object, such as a jet, or juxtaposed against a vast benign background, such as an almost endless sky.  It can also occur with a shot from above, so Kerry looks reduced in the context of an event, or the event as a whole becomes diminished.  It can also be the case where Kerry is physically distorted in some way, such as having a part of his body cut off. 

So, what's my issue with today's Bush/Kerry coverage? (Web story here. Print edition: page A23.)



In the Bush shot, the President emerges out of the shadows in dramatic light.  He is balanced symmetrically in the center of the image, responding to an adoring crowd.  The shot both depicts and signifies someone who reaches out, and makes real contact with people on both sides of the aisle.



In the Kerry photo, the Senator is once again shown in isolation in spite of being in a room full of people.  Because of the long shot -- at the deep back of a stage, with his feet cut off -- Kerry is "miniaturized" so he's no taller than the podium.  In contrast to the Bush shot, where the President basks in the light, the spotlight here emphasizes the empty podium.

The depiction of the (only) other person in the shot is also evocative.  She has turned her back to the candidate, and is walking away.  Of course, he's going to give a speech.  But, you still have the symbolism of someone taking an exit.  Again, the image is characterized by a disproportianate  amount of dead space.

  Basically, what you have is an unanchored Kerry, situated outside the primary spotlight, captured in a diminutive scale, in a shadowy setting that dissolves into a darkened void.  (In the print edition, where both shots are black-and-white, these distinctions are even starker.)

Then again, it could all just be my imagination....

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

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