Nov 20, 2004

(Hardly) Taking Names in Quest for Marlboro Man?

Here's an update regarding the recent attempt by the media to turn a US soldier into an icon.

If you recall, I recently detailed an effort, on the part of the LATimes, to hype the photo of James Miller -- a soldier taking a smoking break during the attack on Fallujah. (Original post.) I then followed up by highlighting an apparent response, by the NYTimes, to create their own "GI Marlboro Man." (Follow up post.)

Again, here is the image the NYTimes ran on it's front page.


Disturbingly, I received an email this week from Jill Pristavec, who identified herself as the mother of Lance Cpl. Michael Pristavec. Michael Pristavec is the person named by the NYTimes as the subject of this photo. She writes:

I happen to be Lance Corporal Michael Pristavec's mother and I can unequivocally tell you that the photograph that appeared in Sunday's New York Times is not my son.  The New York Times mistakenly used my son's name to identify the smoking marine whom I assume is serving in the same unit as my son (First Battalion, Eighth Marines, Bravo Company).  As of this moment, I do not know whether my son is alive or dead in Fallujah and I would appreciate it if you do not contribute to the continued misidentification of him started by the New York Times.  The newspaper obviously did not verify its facts, so please dont believe what you read in there.  Thanks.

Jill Pristavec

Presumably, this was an innocent mistake. Even so, you have to wonder how important it was to the Times to get the right names when what they seemed primarily interested in was "the right face."

(photo: Ashley Gilbertson -- New York Times)

Nov 20, 2004 in In A Picture, Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Nov 16, 2004

I'll See Your Marlboro Man, And I'll Raise You One

Here's an update on the LA Times pr campaign to turn an unwilling Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller into a poster boy (see previous post).

In a defensive action this past weekend, the NYTimes responded by offering up their own cigarette smoking GI (Lance Cpl. Michael Pristavec, below). Aware of the advanced hype for Miller, however, it appears the NYT was more likely trying to "flood the zone," actually casting multiple smoking GI's into the mix (perhaps hoping to dilute the impact of the original LATimes picture).

The following shots ran on the cover of the NYTimes on Saturday. (The part of the photo showing the silhouetted smoker only appeared on the NYT web site.)

Lance Cpl. Michael Pristavec

Lance Cpl. Michael Oliver Ray

On the network front, in another attempt to bootstrap off the Miller picture (this is why I avoid the network news), Dan Rather interviewed the soldier's mother last Monday night. (She was also on the CBS Morning Show today.) The title of their web story is classic. It reads: "Mom Wants Icon Son To Return Safe." (When was the last time an icon needed to be so labeled?)

I have to reproduce Dan Rather's comments for you. I offer them not just because they are so sacchrine, but because they demonstrate how Rather (in the name of the network) has laid personal claim to James Blake. Remember, this is a kid who is clearly feeling exploited by the attention. Says Rather:

"For me, this one's personal. The picture. Did you see it? The best war photograph of recent years is in many newspapers today. Front page in some. Taken by Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times, it is this close-up of a U.S. Marine on the front lines of Fallujah.

He is tired, dirty and bloodied, dragging on that cigarette, eyes narrowed and alert. Not with the thousand-yard stare of a dazed infantryman so familiar to all who have seen combat, first hand, up close. No. This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger.

See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride.

And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I. Where such men come from and what will happen to our country when they cease to come, we can wonder with worry. But for now, we have them, and they are there in that brown hell known as Iraq."

The Morality Issue

Besides the clear example of a news organization attempting to exploit a combat soldier (the media's form of war profiteering), I was also interested in the impression of these photos in light of the current discussion about "moral values."

Beyond the manipulation of James Miller, these pictures could easily be seen to suggest other issues, for example, the impact of battle stress, the hazards of smoking, or even the romanticization of war. (Isn't it weird we get these "dreamy" shots of our boys in place of more realistic images of what they're doing in and to Fallouja when they aren't puffing away?)

In light of the election, there has been a good deal of discussion about the right wing and it's clever appropriation of the "morality" theme. One of the organizations looking at how the right wing has integrated the concept is the Rockridge Institute (website). Besides decoding and deconstructing right wing talking points, Rockridge is also looking at what they call the new "right wing permissiveness." The basic idea is that the conservative's reliance on a “higher authority” actually overrides the need for moral judgment.

What is interesting (to me, at least) is how easy it is to take these images at face value. In the terms of a conservative mindset (which, many argue, has become the underlying framework for cultural thinking), America's involvement in Iraq has become accepted without question as serving a "higher authority" (or, translated into secular terms, the "greater good"). Writing for Rockridge, Fred Block explains that, in seeking this "higher" goal, however, we have been conditioned to overlook or excuse any morally questionable behavior that happens along the way. (That's why the conservatives were able to dismiss Abu Ghraib, for example.)

Given this mentality, one can look at these images and barely see them at all. You don't see the fear. You don't see the exhaustion. You don't see the addiction. You just see how cool these guys are, taking a welcome break before resuming the march to democracy.

(photos: Ashley Gilbertson -- New York Times)

Nov 16, 2004 in In A Picture, Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Nov 14, 2004

L.A. Times Coughs Up New Marlboro Man (...Or: "15 Minutes of Flame")


In an impressive act of exploitation, the LATimes has done its best to gets some mileage from the image of an unwilling GI.

After running a photo last Wednesday of Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller that was picked up by over 100 newspapers, the Times ran a follow up story on Saturday about the popularity of their picture. Not to miss the chance to hype the image (at the expense of the soldier, not to mention the war), the Times unashamedly juiced the story from every promotional angle.

They dropped in references to John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, poster boys, and, of course, the Marlboro Man. They worked in some Muslim vilification (describing Miller as catching a smoke just before going after some Iraqi's "holed up in yet another mosque.") They added a plug for their photographer, Luis Sinco. Then they started in with unabashed hype for the picture itself.

Just consider this line:

The image, printed in more than 100 newspapers, has quickly moved into the realm of the iconic.

Of course, once the Times anointed their photo with icon status, the blatant sexualization was not far behind. Two lines later, the Times found the opportunity not just to plug itself, but to point out that Miller had become the object of lust.

The Los Angeles Times and other publications have received scores of e-mails wanting to know about this mysterious figure. Many women, in particular, have inquired about how to contact him.

As if they had the next Jessica Lynch on their hands (forgetting that the military generally designates who to deify, not the press), the Times implied (with attendant melodrama) that the image had achieved a widespread resonance.

The photo seems to have struck a chord, as an image of America striking back at a perceived enemy, or just one young man putting his life on the line halfway across the globe.

Then, in a blatantly patronizing act, the Times went to the military with the hype in order to ignite their enthusiasm. The results, however, were less than spectacular.

Labeling "the top Marine brass" as "thrilled," the Times reported that Col. Craig Tucker, head of the combat regiment that includes Miller's battalion, had gone so far as to have one of the pictures "blown up and sent over to the unit."

Interspersed with all this b.s. is the sad fact that Mr. Miller is down-and-out, in the middle of a hellish battle, and can't seem to understand or care why the Times has been playing him up.

Probably the most crass aspect about the photo and the article, however, involves the romanticization of smoking. In reality, Miller has a profound addiction to cigarettes. According to the article, the extent of Miller's habit has "raised eyebrows," even though smoking in the military is pervasive. Miller has a 3 pack-a-day habit.

("I tried to get him to stop — the cigarettes will kill him before the war," says Navy Corpsman Anthony Lopez, a company medic.)

Adding insult to injury, the notoriety has caused other soldiers to want cigarettes from Miller. The article mentioned the soldier is down to his last four packs, and he's feeling a little desperate.

Chafing under the hype, Miller -- who hails from a very small town in Appalachia -- seemed to directly rebuff the Times p.r. effort on his behalf. When asked if he was inclined to "cash in on his fame," Miller said he was just more interested in being home.

"I just don't understand what all the fuss is about," Miller says. "I was just smokin' a cigarette and someone takes my picture and it all blows up."

(photo: the famous Luis Sinco of the LA Times!)

Nov 14, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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.


Oct 28, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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 28, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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 21, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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 20, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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 19, 2004 in In A Word, Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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 18, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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 17, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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 a literally 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.")

Oct 15, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Oct 14, 2004

Make Up Sex: The Ongoing Saga of the NYTimes Political Photo Coverage

Sometime in the summer, I started a blog category called "Leading Photos." Inspired by the unconventional cover photos in the NYTimes, I would occasionally post the most interesting shots while offering various wry suggestions as to their subtext. (Example 1, Example 2)

If you've been following the BAG, you know I've been concerned about how the presidential race has seemed to throw the Times photo coverage completely out of wack. Not only have they lost what had been a consistently unconventional and subtlely evocative rhythm in their (political) photo coverage, I believe many shots of Kerry had begun reflecting stereotypes of the the candidate propagated by the Bush campaign.

Over the weekend, I blogged about the Times Public Editor's defensive comments (in Sunday's "Week In Review") about bias in their photo coverage. With the new week, my hope was that the coverage would not just rebalance, but return to the creative and interpretative style to which I was originally drawn.

Certainly, the Times' coverage of the third debate would form an interesting test to see what developed (pardon the pun).

Scooping the Times off the front lawn this morning, I would never have anticipated what slid out of that blue plastic. There, at the top of the front page, was a huge, four column wide image of the debate stage. At the bottom left was Bob Schieffer. At the extreme middle right was George Bush. And there, framed in the slightly upper middle was John Kerry, buttoning his coat and smiling like the cheshire cat. My first thought was: "My God, the New York Times just called the election three weeks early!" My immediate next thought was: My God, these guys are now so freaked out about a possible Bush bias they've done a 180º the other way!"

(Today's "First Pass" N.Y. Times Cover-- West Coast Edition)

That wasn't even the best of it though. After pulling in to work and pulling out the portable, I signed on to the Times website to find that the photo on my West Coast edition had disappeared! It was so jarring, I had to pull out the paper version and check it again.

Examining the new treatment was both interesting and a little disheartening. Taking up those four columns was now what could only be called a "painfully balanced" photo montage. On the top row were two photos of Kerry, meticulously juxtaposed with two photos of Bush. The bottom row had a Kerry on the left, a Bush on the right and a "handshake" in between.

(Today's Final N.Y. Times Cover)

I'm sure, if the Times people are reading this, they are spitting that I could never be satisfied. 'Give 'em the benefit of the doubt on the Bush bias, and he complains about favoring Kerry.' 'Give 'em a scrupulously balanced montage, and he complains that the Times is too self-conscious.' Well, sorry to be unforgiving, but self-consciousness was the theme of the day.

By the way, in spite of the fuss, I don't think I'm asking that much. I don't want the subtle Kerry diminishment. I don't want him getting free passes, either. (That's like the journalist equivalent of make-up sex.) I just want the Times with the old mojo back.

Oct 14, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Oct 11, 2004

Times Still At It? (Sunday edition)


Really, I'm just stupified at this point by the Times' photo coverage of John Kerry. After all the business with Daniel Okrent and Jackson Pollock, here's the latest set of images of the two candidates.

This time, we have George Bush hand in hand with his idolizing wife, Laura Bush, in front of another idolizing crowd, while the first couple casts those BIG, looong, imposing shadows. The Times ran both of these images on page A27 of Sunday's edition (with the Bush shot at the top of the article again, of course.) Because the Times only ran the Bush photo in the on-line version, however, I had to improvise with my Nikon to bring you the Kerry shot. (Got to get that scanner!)

And again, we have another typical Kerry "shoot down":

He's infinitesimally small (smaller than an apple!);

He's talking to an invisible crowd;

He's about to get covered up by a hanging piece of paper;

...And he's overshadowed by the only other person in the shot -- some security guy who got his picture taken with the candidate only because he had to.

Oct 11, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

In Which the NYTimes Photo Coverage Does Another Hatchet Job on Kerry, and our Guest Blogger Says "Enough Already!"


If you've been following this blog, you know that I've been keeping an eye on the photo coverage of Bush and Kerry for the past couple of months. In that time, it's been my sense that the coverage has been biased against Kerry. Primarily, what I have observed is a tendency for the photojournalism to reinforce the conception that Bush is strong and Kerry is weak. The visual bias seems to express itself in a number of consistent ways.

In general, the tendency is to portray Kerry in long shots, either in vast landscapes, or juxtaposed against extremely large objects, like airplanes. In either case, the effect is to make him look quite small and insignificant.

Another version of the bias is a shot where Kerry is shown alone, or with a few solitary figures around, usually people who are present only because they have to be. Often, these shots are taken at rallies. The fact that the crowd or the candidate's supporters are absent, however, creates a dissonance that's palpably jarring.

The third manifestation of the bias involves shots where Kerry either looks physically awkward or inept, or his figure is cropped as to show only a fragment of his body.

(Sometimes these shots are shown alone; other times they are juxtaposed with a picture of President Bush. The shots of Bush, in contrast, typically show him in front of adoring crowds, and are often taken from an angle that makes him look tall and imposing -- if not overtly so.)

Over the past couple months, I have done a number of entries capturing examples of these biased images. Surprisingly (because I generally have a high regard for the paper), most of the examples I've found have come from the New York Times.

These two photos (above) ran on the NYTimes website on Thursday. (In Friday's print edition, they appeared in the article: "Arms Report Spurs Bitter Bush-Kerry Exchange.") Late Thursday morning, I got an email from my occasional guest blogger, Karen. Upset about what she obviously felt was a disparity between the images, she fired off an email to the Managing Editor and the Public Editor of the Times. Admittedly, the message was strongly worded, especially the conclusion which suggested that the bias reflected a form of intimidation by the White House. The conclusion notwithstanding, however, Karen delineated the following concern:

At around 5 PM, I linked to the New York Times online to see a photo of John Kerry, seemingly alone in a meadow and about to fall off the edge of a platform. Your "tease" for the story indicated that he had just " said today that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were 'the last two people on the planet' who believed that the original rationale for war was right."

I scrolled down and was dumbstruck to see that the photo with which you countered poor isolated Kerry talking to an empty field was one of George W Bush waving from a stage to an overflowing crowd of supporters.

About five hours later, Karen received an email back from the Office of the Public Editor of the Times. It stated that:

"Mr. Okrent will be writing about The Times's coverage of Senator Kerry and President Bush soon. I will note your concerns to him as reference material."

She seemed to believe there would be a response....

Oct 11, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sep 26, 2004

Leading Photos: Slimes of the Times


When I laid out the NYTimes this morning, I was disappointed to find still another lead image (the second this week) clearly denigrating John Kerry.

Frustrated, I started hunting around for stories that might reveal some new (conservative) editorial slant to the Times photo coverage. I can't say my search was that fruitful, but I did take notice of a late April story in Photo District News announcing the appointment of Michele McNally to the newly established title of NYTimes Director of Photography. After indicating that the role of photo head had just been elevated to a higher status (previous photo chiefs at the Times have carried the title of "Picture Editor"), the article offered a quote from Rik Kirkland, McNally's former boss at Fortune magazine. (The new hire had been a picture editor at Fortune since 1968.)

"McNally," Kirkland said, "has a strong news sense and an ability to find creative ways to illustrate analytical stories not driven by breaking news."

If my complaint about the Times' pictorial mini-me-ization of Kerry earlier in the week was based on a "stand alone" photo, what bothered me this morning was something a little more toxic. Specifically, it was a cheap slice-and-dice image (see above) used to illustrate an analytical story ("Kerry as the Boss: Always More Questions") not driven by breaking news. (If you missed the story, the thesis was that Kerry is so obsessive, he reduces his staff to molasses.) With the folks from Clinton's war room now grafted onto the Kerry operation (and Kerry having spent the past week nearly flaying the skin off of Bush's body) however, it's impossible not to question the timing of this piece (if not, it's accuracy).

A reader, Martin, commenting on my previous "Photo" post, mentioned an AP shot of Kerry he recently saw on Yahoo. He said he called AP to inquire about the awkward image which showed Kerry's head at the very bottom of the frame. He reported that, when he returned to the link, the photo had been changed. In it's place was a shot of Kerry climbing aboard a plane. Taken from a distance, however, he looked like a tiny, solitary figure against the enormous aircraft.

I imagine receiving feedback (from the more conservatively persuaded) about the liberal bias of the Times. I can see entreaties suggesting I take a more realistic stance as the Times aspires to (or even, contrives) a more (fair and) balanced approach.

(This is where I would answer, I expect the Times to lean left. If I didn't, I could be reading the Wall Street Journal.)


Sep 26, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sep 21, 2004

Leading Photos: Looking Down On Kerry?

In keeping up my "highly graphic" standard, I like to keep an eye on editorial trends at the visual level.

Over the past few days, John Kerry has been hammering Bush on Iraq. Yesterday, the attacks assumed a new degree of ferocity. The impact was heightened because Kerry took his latest swing in New York, on the eve of W's opening speech to the General Assembly. What's interesting is to compare these two front page images of Kerry in the L.A. and New York Times. The L.A. image shows a dignified, literally expansive Kerry in an uncharacteristically animated pose, framed by American flags. Pretty straight-forward stuff.

If you've seen some of my "Leading Photo" posts, you know that I'm particularly interested in the NYTimes photo coverage. The Times rarely runs the conventional image. Their photos almost always seem to beg a question, or suggest some editorial comment. What is the metacommunication in this shot? Of course, you can argue the only vantage available was from a balcony. But out of a whole day's worth of material, they went with this -- from Kerry's appearance at Lincoln Center. It's not always the case that a straight read is so informative: We're looking down on Kerry. He might look animated, but the stronger impression is how small he is, and distant. Also, the image exposes his backdrop as flimsy and staged, drawing your eye out the window in the direction of stronger, more certain structures.

How does one interpret such a shot? Are the editors expressing the popular "another day, another Kerry" meme? Are they intentionally discounting the candidate or his latest line of attack? Or are they possibly looking beyond him?

However you read it, it's hard not to end up on the theme of minimization.


(Lead Photo: Today's L.A. Times)


(Lead Photo: Today's N.Y. Times)

Sep 21, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Jul 14, 2004

Leading Photos: This Guy's a Real Vacuum Case


The more of these front page photos I study, the more I come to admire the editorial ingenuity of the NYTimes. Even if they run with the day's leading shot, they hardly ever use the most stage-managed version. Instead, if they have the choice, they tend to go with something that suggests other political interpretations.

Yesterday's edition has a shot of President Bush looking at centrifuge parts at the Oak Ridge Labs. Here are a few associations I came up with:

a.) Like Paul O'Neill said, Bush is not a "hands-on" kind of guy

b. ) Didn't Poppa Bush make the same face when they showed him the supermarket scanner?

c.) When it comes to confronting the issue of nukes, this guy comes off awfully small

d.) Still not listening to the folks who know


Jul 14, 2004 in At The Photography Clearinghouse, Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jun 30, 2004

Leading Photos: We've Got To Stop Meeting Like This


It seems the NYTimes is on a roll with it's front page photos of the Iraqi transition. In this shot, new American Ambassador John Negroponte presents himself to the new Iraqi President and Foreign Minister. As the saying goes, there's enough distance between the parties to drive a truck through. It's hard to see in this small version, but Negroponte is sort of grimacing, while al-Yawar and Zebari just stand there with slightly blank, slightly dubious expressions.

How do you read the underlying commentary in this peculiar image? I "free associated" the following:

a.) Who are the visitors and who is the home team?

b.) Hello, I must be going.

c.) If you keep feeding them, they won't bite.

d.) You can't see him, but let me also introduce Mr. Bremer.

e.) What electricity problems?

Jun 30, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Jun 29, 2004

Leading Photos: Not Ready for Prime Time?

I couldn't help featuring this image of the new Iraqi leadership. With the surprise, early (one might say "hasty") announcement of the transfer of power, these folks got a lot of play in this morning's papers. However, few images were as unceremonial and disconcerting and this one in the NYTimes.

What kind of underlying inferences do you pull out of this shot? Here are a few I found:

a.) All for one ...and then we'll see

b.) One flag for each Iraq

c.) Robes vs. suits?

d.) Mine! All mine!!

e.) The Bremer Boys Choir

(image: newseum)

Jun 29, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Jun 28, 2004

Lead Photos: The Hand that Rocks the Hand Over

Although we're rapidly becoming familiar with hostage photos, the specific content of one is always unique from another. Also, the selection of one specific shot over another or the specific composition of the shot will also carry particular associations. How would you read the political subtext of this lead photo from today's New York Times?

a.) Almost three years into this war and we're still wondering: Who are these guys?

b.) The real hand over is up to the insurgents

c.) Hey, isn't that Arab-American also a Marine?

d.) Worse comes to worse, we can always blame it on Aljazerra

Jun 28, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Jun 24, 2004

Leading Photos: Superior Fighting Machine

This lead photo from Monday's New York Times has been on my mind for a few days now. The caption reads:

Sgt. Luke Wilson, who lost a leg in Iraq, walks with a device known as a C-leg while technicians use a computer to monitor it at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The center has fitted 100 soldiers with artificial arms and legs, including state-of-the-art devices unavailable to the public.

If you've been following my blog, you know that I'm interested in the political subtexts and unstated messages of these kinds of photos. Typically, I like to suggest a few possible readings:

a.) Gulf War II: No sacrifice required.

b.) There's nothing America can't fix if we just throw some technology at it.

c.) The American army is a superior fighting machine.

d.) If we don't want to know about the dead, we certainly don't want to know about the injured.


Jun 24, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

Not Seeing Eye To Eye


So, why did the Boston Globe specifically choose this shot from the Mueller/Ashcroft press conference for Thursday's front page? (The meeting involved a warning to the public of a possible summer attack on the U.S.)

a.) good composition (with terrorist framed in the middle)

b.) striking lack of eye contact subtlety suggests possibility of a political agenda

c.) hapless expressions reflect genuine dejection and/or frustration

d.) Downcast Mueller suggests CIA in the doghouse

e.) photographer wasn't set up until things were wrapping up

f.) your call


May 28, 2004 in Leading Photos | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack