Troublesome snapshots of the campaign trail
Dave Keliher of Los Angeles spoke for a number of readers who have called and written over the past several weeks when on Feb. 20 he wrote, "Enough is enough is enough. On too many occasions when you run photos of Ms. Hillary and Mr. Barack the photos are not balanced. I expect more from you. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look at today's paper, Page A16. You have a wonderful picture of Obama, looking like Jesus parting the Red Sea -- pacific, at ease, in control. (I know it was Moses, but that's not the point.) Now look at Hillary: strained, tense, constipated. What's up with that? I know life is unfair but I expect YOU to find a balance."
Then again are calls like this one from a reader who didn't leave a name: "I’m so tired of opening up the paper and it’s all positive about Clinton and you stick Obama on the back page. Every single day for about a week and a half -– I’m tired of it."
Stuck in the middle are photo editors trying to play it straight down the middle. Complicating the effort to show in photos the realities of running for office, these editors contend with the spin machines that are connected with each candidates' supporters.
As photo editors see it, campaigns have staffers and handlers who, if they had their way, would get a photo in each day's paper of a smiling candidate looking presidential and surrounded by admirers. But the story every day changes, and the images of the events have to match, says deputy director of photography Steve Stroud, who oversees the selection of staff and wire photos that run in the main section, including the front page.
Said Stroud in his e-mail response on the subject of photos showing the hot contest that is this year's presidential campaign: "One of our objectives in selecting news photos for each edition is to visually assist readers in telling any given story in a fair way. Photos, like words, carry different meanings for different people based on their individual perspective. We've all seen photos of ourselves that we hate, yet we're told by friends or family that they're great and we look terrific. Each is right, depending on perspective. News photos are viewed with the same multiple perspectives that reflect individuals' points of view."
Stroud summarizes: "Readers will always have their opinion as to what a photo conveys, but ideally each will see a photo that accurately represents the news of the day."
Of course, there is the occasional picture published that even a photo editor has problems with. While Colin Crawford, assistant managing editor for photography , echoes the points Stroud makes, Crawford was critical of at least one photo that The Times has run, and not only because of the way Clinton looked.
The photo, which accompanied a Feb. 21 article about a division among Clinton advisors, showed Clinton in a knot of people.
The problem, Crawford said, was that their faces weren't clearly visible, and, as it turns out, they weren't named in the article -- or the caption. (The information supplied by the wire service said that the one of the people was former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, but did not identify a woman also shown talking to Clinton.)
Crawford didn't think it was the right picture to use, or that the caption gave readers the necessary information. However, he thinks that image is the exception. Clearly, he says, editors don't go out of their way to find bad pictures. In any campaign, especially one that goes on so long and is covered so intensively, candidates are bound to look less than wonderful in some photos.
Both photo editors point out that those readers who think they're seeing a pattern that reflects bias might not notice as much those days when, for example, a pleasant photo of Clinton runs, with no image of Obama, as on Feb. 17, where she is shown with Rep. John Lewis, waving and smiling.
And they might not see the days that both candidates look, arguably, a little strange (below, Feb. 15).
Photos from top: Obama at lectern by Pat Sullivan, Associated Press; Clinton at lectern by Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press; Clinton looking down by Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images; Clinton with Lewis by John Amis, Associated Press; Clinton with outstretched arms, by Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press; Obama with aide, by Zbigniew Bzdak Chicago Tribune