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Clinton photo: 'Disrespectful' or 'a telling gesture'?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Reader J.C. Devin of Malibu sent a note of complaint regarding the image that accompanied a June 6 story about a couple who, federal authorities say, conspired for decades to provide classified information to the Cuban government.

The photo of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ran four columns over the 23-inch story and was at the very least, said Devin, "disrespectful."

Wrote Devin: "All those hours of research, fact checking and efforts at journalistic balance were lost when the individual who chose the uncomplimentary [Associated Press] photo of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to accompany your words blew it. The photo, capturing Secretary Clinton in an awkward moment at the news conference, did little to enhance your article or communicate any journalistic integrity of the L.A. Times. The Times' pride in its professionalism should ensure photo choices that support the content of an article and that don't come off as disrespectful."

The caption said, "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown at a news conference in Washington, has ordered an internal investigation, a 'comprehensive damage assessment' and a review of State Department security procedures."

Photo editors respond.

As it turns out, the image wasn't intended to be four columns. Asked about it later, Steve Stroud, deputy director of photography, notes that occasionally a photo will be enlarged to make up the difference when, on deadline, the story comes up short. Stroud thought the photo -- Clinton's expression and all -- was OK, though, saying the image "portrayed a telling gesture, not an awkward moment. Whether the photo is flattering is in the eyes of the reader, but it reflects the secretary of State's comments on American spies working for Cuba. While ordering a national security damage assessment, Clinton's facial expression did not, understandably, warrant a smile."

Deputy Managing Editor Colin Crawford, on the other hand, who oversees the use of visuals, thought the photo of Clinton wasn't great, at any size. He adds a layer of explanation: When the Times can't send its own photographer, Crawford points out, Times editors are left choosing the best of several that come from wire services that did staff the event. In this case, unfortunately, there wasn't a better choice.

Visuals, photographs included, are supposed to add to the story, to draw readers in. Editors try to find the right photography and use it at the right size for its value and what it adds to the story. In this case, though, Crawford see the reader's point, believing the image should have been used smaller -- as originally intended -- or not at all.

Which thinking should be good news to Devin and other readers who might have thought the photo detracted from the news story.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

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Comments (24)

As I recall, there was no caption with the picture. When I first saw it, I thought, "that's funny, the wife looks a lot like Hillary Clinton!"

Time photo choice is being criticized for a photo which some deem disrespectful. How funny. I watched the cable news Chanels all day to see if they would criticized Letterman for calling Palin a slut, but no such luck. But here we are debating a photo of Hillary. Only in America. Only in America.

I wonder if JC ever complained about an uncomplimentary of a republican. The Left Angeles Times already slants everything to the left, and this guy is worried about one photo? Get a life.

Now, how many photos of Hillary Clinton are there out there to choose from? How many as Secr. of State? Hundreds? Thousands? Thus, the DELIBERATE choice to run this incredibly unflattering image is obviously an expression of the political views of the persons who chose to run it. One of the most powerful ways to slant 'journalistic' coverage is by the choice of images, how their 'managed', cropped, colored, PhotoShopped, etc. And this photo speaks for itself.

The Times ran numerous photographs of President G.W.Bush with less than flattering facial expressions and that was never considered disrespectful. I not impressed with this photo either and I think a better photo could have been found.

Well, this is nice. Thank you for the follow up. I also had thought the photo was off for a senior government official (of any party), though I didn't write a letter about it. I don't mind if it's unflattering- that's fine, show the flaws. But it does make her look like she's dismissing the issue- shrugging, frowning, and tossing it behind her to be forgotten- even though I doubt that's how she feels on the issue of Cuban spies and it was just a momentary gesture on something else. So thank you for the clarification and back story; I can definitely understand pressing deadlines and space to fill.

You had a choice of photos. You could have printed a file photo or no photo. Bad response from a bad journalist. Grow up and take responsibility for running the photo. And for someone like Crawford who says you have to run what the send, fire 'em...

"Deputy Managing Editor Colin Crawford, on the other hand, who oversees the use of visuals, thought the photo of Clinton wasn't great, at any size. He adds a layer of explanation: When the Times can't send its own photographer, Crawford points out, Times editors are left choosing the best of several that come from wire services that did staff the event. In this case, unfortunately, there wasn't a better choice."

It looks like she's about to spit--not a good look even for a man, but especially for a woman. I can't imagine a more unflattering photo to have been selected. Your editorial staff owes Mrs Clinton an apology.

This photo just points up the slipshod standards of a once great paper which has gone through numerous layoffs due to its parent compny (The Tribune Corp.) being saddled with debt. The picture is inappropriate at any size and its use is inexcusable. This picture detracts from the story; it has become the story. The content of the story does not cry out for a lousy contemporaneous picture of Clinton. If a file picture had been used, we would not be talking about this. Welcome to the new world of mediocre journalism and poor decision making. The Times is about a year away from becoming a glorified Blog.

I agree, the photo is disrespectful. It's just a matter of common courtesy to use a photograph where the person's face is not scrunched up, be it a politician or anyone.

Since when is showing a photo of a public figure in any public setting 'disrespectful'? Would it also be disrespectful for CNN to air video footage of Secretary Clinton that included the facial expression she made at this particular point of her news conference? The interpretation of her expression is up to the reader/viewer given the context of the story. I find the complaint lodged by the reader to be unduly sensitive and unwarranted. As other readers' comments suggest, there are innumerable examples of photos of public officials shown in less than flattering poses, with no malice intended - on both sides of the partisan and gender aisles. Get over it.

I take issue with the premise that the photo is unflattering. Certainly, it does not portray Clinton at her most glamorous, attractive moment, but then when have those attributes been a requirement for the responsibilities of the Secretary of State? We all need to come to terms with the realities of powerful women in powerful positions, and that includes the reality that the burdens of the office have a physical effect on the body. In that sense, I find the photo flattering: it displays an engaged, appropriately enraged woman completely in command of her situation.

Never -- in one of Obama's brilliant groundbreaking speeches or his serious laying of a wreath at Buchenwald etc-- would there be anything but a wonderful photo of our new God and media king! Clinton is constantly working and on the move , never sleeps and deals with enormously complex issues such as-- oh North Korea, nuclear arms race around the world running to China etc, etc. Why does she not receive ANY respect from the media? She has the hardest job and doesn't get the great glory that Our Dear Leader gets--yeah LATimes SHAME ON YOU!!

It's disingenuous to write that whether the picture is flattering is in the eye of the beholder. Secretary of State Clinton is a brilliant, dedicated public servant who looks awful in every way possible in the large photo you ran.

Caroline Collins

I'd sympathize if this were an unflattering photo, but she's not running for Miss America here, she's Sec. of State. I like this no-messing-around face better the usual photos. This is a face that says, "Are you trying to BS me? I'm a Clinton. I know how the game is played. Why don't you try again, Bucko."

I second the sentiment from JBuck regarding all the unflattering pix of G.W. Bush in various media outlets. Granted, he was a gold mine for photo editors. But the fact that we're talking about this at all tells you what a good choice this photo of HRC was. As the billboard says: "Made you look."

She is not a model. She is the Secretary of State. She does not have a botox face, nor should be expected to pose every second. Nothing disrespectful about it. Furthermore, it is an impressive photograph of an interesting human being.

I'm glad that someone put in writing exactly what I was thinking when I saw the photo. It's pretty obvious that it was a political and personal jab at Secretary Clinton. The LA Times is slowly but surely becoming one of my least favorite news sources. Keep it up and you'll be making headlines of your own similar to those about The Boston Globe and The Rocky Mountain News.

The question the LAT doesn't address and no one is asking is, what exactly did the LAT editor believe the photo was expressing? Clearly they chose it on purpose, what was the purpose? Not addressing that is disingenuous at best.

It's an expressive photo, but -- because it doesn't illustrate or illuminate the story -- it's a poor journalistic decision.

I find it interesting that so many refer to the photo as "unflattering." In 2009, women are still judged on how they appear with "beauty" as the most desired outcome. Only the most flattering photos of women are acceptable, especially by other women. An honest, candid news photo that is a different look at someone constantly in the news has all involved apologizing, with the photo editors especially tripping over each other to blame newsroom colleagues.

The problem with the photo is that it editorializes in a way that is not true. Sec. Clinton wasn't reacting to being told about the people indicted for spying, so showing this photo implies her distaste with the situation. That is editorializing. Having been a newspaper photo editor I know the difference between choosing a photo that adds to the story and its understanding, and choosing a photo that looks as if the person is commenting on the reporting, which Sec. Clinton was not.
The point is not that the photo is disrespectful it is that the photo is sloppy journalism.

Stroud - thats a lame excuse. Be honest. Crappy photo choice. Crappy oversight of visuals. Crappy attempt to palm off the blame on others.

Everyone! Get real.

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