August 7, 2010
Deliberately Bad Press Photos and the Unknown Bush-Harvard Fiasco
Posted by Alan Childress
More about journalism ethics than legal ones, or just weekend musings of the sort we occasionally do here, but when did it become acceptable for the AP and others to pick a frame of a series of photos taken that displays someone in their worst light, or most stereotypical? I am not just talking about the fact that most neighborhoods in New Orleans during Mardi Gras parades are sedate and fully clothed, and full of families on picnic blankets. I get that the travel channel, the national news, and Girls Gone Wild are not going to show that. But btw you can bring your family to Mardi Gras and it is a very family-friendly event with just a little inside knowledge. If anyone wants to write a guide to the family friendliness of Mardi Gras, I will publish it. My point being that of course there are moments and events where you show the funniest, wildest eye-catching aspect of it, and that is cool and has been since at least 1898.
But political figures, and really all people truly in the news, are different. Why show the one frame where they look stupid or exaggerated, and not the next one where they look stately? Where Arnold looks like he is demonstrating what he would do to the neck of someone who disagrees with his view about gay marriage? Where they make him like like a terminator rather than an elected governor? By the AP? (Used without its permission but fair use since I am commenting on it as a political matter and about its presentation itself rather than just using it to illustrate my story. From this story, though they may have changed the photo since.) I would think that you could politically decide to put him into a bobblehead figure toting a gun and sell it, sure, that itself is fair use of his image, so I am not suggesting Arnold has some cause of action here against the AP (especially now--he is a public official after all not just an actor); I am just suggesting that this is not right and they need to voluntarily return to the day of picking normal and not weird photos.
To answer my question, I think it began with W. I saw increasing numbers of abnormal, silly-posed pictures of him as his administration became more disfavored. I think it became cool to make him look like a fool, in the words of Nipsey Russell (not his actual words, but again fair use of his name). I am not the hugest fan of the man or his administration, not at all, but I really do not believe he always had a smirk that looked like mommy was going to buy him ice cream, or that other smirk that looked like he was at a solemn
ceremony but sort of secretly knew, but could not hide, the fact that he and four frat boys had dumped manure next to the statue of John Harvard before he was later a Harvard student and supporter. OK, I admit I also assume they found the wrong statue and just dumped it next to some generic horserider in Cambridge, but still. Why not show the president as looking like...a president? Or a governor. I know the press can do it, since they seem to have no trouble doing it with President Obama. I am not saying that is inappropriate to Obama, just that it should be objectively offered to all who are in the public eye in serious journalism.
Would you have shown Margaret Thatcher blowing her nose? Reagan in the middle of saying eee--eewww or some such odd face that we all make thousands of time a day without freeze frame? Or Clinton pointing his finger looking like he is about to say something obfuscating? OK, I will give you that one.
Anyway, I did not like this picture,above right, of Arnold that the AP and Yahoo! News used from his press conference. The picture is ridiculous. We should not go out of our way to make people look ridiculous on pages that are not about that.
Bill Gallagher, you still owe me the bobblehead of you. I have a place for it on my shelf at school, next to a photo of Justice Scalia looking silly (but he was trying to, for me, at our summer school) and a sign from Greece that says Thank You for Smoking and shows a smoking butt. But people should know that Lawyer Bill is the only law prof with an official bobblehead of his image. Bobblehead case result here. So cool, Bill. Update: I cannot get over how similar the AP's weird pose of Arnold is to the Bobblehead pose, and facial expression.
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