Visual Editorializing

I concur with the Star Tribune’s take on U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Newsweek cover photo. The Strib’s Jill Burcum wrote:

The photo isn’t just unflattering. It goes way beyond that, making the three-term Congresswoman look unbalanced. It’s the kind of photo you expect to see in a political attack ad, not on the cover of a mainstream news magazine.

After its photo shoot, Newsweek surely had a large stock of flattering proofs, along with some unflattering ones. Newsweek chose a bad one, and that constitutes a cheap shot.

Burcum also maintains that the Newsweek cover photo decision had a gender component:

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin is also raising fair concerns about unflattering photos of other conservative women, among them Condoleeza Rice. I’d say that the many ghastly shots of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s cankles and pantsuits through the years suggest gender is the issue, not politics.

I agree that female politicians’ looks get over-analyzed. But then again, Mitt’s plastic hair and expensive suits, Newt’s girth, Huck’s weight loss, Pawlenty’s mullet, John Edwards’ dazzling dental assets, Obama’s shirtless beach shots are hardly ignored in the news media.

Moreover, Bachmann is not the first politician to be portrayed by the media in photos that are markedly less flattering their official photo. Some of the others are liberal, and men.

Visual editorializing cuts across gender and ideology. It is more insidious than verbal editorializing, because it is more subtle and subliminal. News outlets aren’t obligated to use leaders’ official glamour shots every single time. But there is no good reason to go out of the way to show them at their visual worst.

– Loveland

17 thoughts on “Visual Editorializing

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Hey thanks PM–But damn this reminds me of the difficulty I have with a feature article online. Just need the sweaty newsprint all over everything I guess. Interesting take by Loveland. Dayton does look like a baffoon in those candid shots, but Bachmann’s cover photo looks like–well–Bachmann.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Anyone who is photographed often has both flattering and unflattering photos in their file. If you put Rep. Bachmann’s news photo inventory on a 0-10 scale, worst to best, I’d put the Newsweek photo at about 2 or 3. She has a few that are worse, and many that are better. News outlets aren’t obligated to use all 10s, but I don’t understand why they need to go lower than 4 for candid shots, and 7-8 for a posed cover photo. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for criticizing Bachmann, but the fact that she has the capacity to occassionally look like a deer in the headlights isn’t one of them.

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    Reaction from this morning’s LA Times from two ends of the political spectrum:

    Tea-party activist Dana Loesch, writing at Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Journalism” site, denounced the cover as chauvinistic. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, addressing Newsweek editor Tina Brown, said, “You’ve resorted to recycling bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo cliches about conservative female public figures and their enraged ‘crazy eyes?’ Really?”

    But even the National Organization for Women chimed in:

    “It’s sexist,” NOW president Terry O’Neill told conservative news site the Daily Caller. “Casting her in that expression and then adding ‘The Queen of Rage,’ I think [it is]. Gloria Steinem has a very simple test: If this were done to a man or would it ever be done to a man – has it ever been done to a man? Surely this has never been done to a man.”

    (Someone who comes to mind as a past candidate for similar treatment: Democrat Howard Dean, who appeared on Newsweek’s Jan. 12, 2004, cover. The headline was the gender-neutral — and exceedingly dull — “Doubts About Dean”; although, in all fairness, the cover also promoted a story on “mad cow” disease.)

  2. Mike Kennedy says:

    Joe, you’re right. There are plenty of reasons to criticize her, totally on substance rather than an image of one photo. Personally, I think she is attractive, yet I found some of the things she says either downright disturbing or ignorant. I don’t think she is intellectually stupid. I do think she resorts to slogans and talking points rather than substance.
    It has nothing to do with being a woman. I happen to think an intelligent woman might be just what the country needs right now.

  3. Gary Pettis says:

    In pro wrestling lingo, Michelle Bachmann is going through a major face turn after being a heel for such a long time. Next summer, she will not have the mettle to be the World Champion, but she could be in the running to be the next Intercontinental Champion, which is sort of like being a Vice President, Secretary of Homeland Security or something.

    The Newsweek “The Queen of Rage” cover does work in Bachman’s favor in the perception that she is likable and a fan-favorite face, especially if Tina Brown’s Newsweek far-left media experiment blows up her in face, and she either is forced to sell the magazine or brings in Michelle Malkin as a consultant. (RE: Palin’s comments after Katie Couric left CBS.)

    Remember, too, it’s called the sympathy vote, not the “candidate makes my skin crawl” vote. All of this sympathy for how Bachmann is treated and misrepresented by the “mainstream press” is all good.

    Over the course of my lifetime, I had had conversations with a few politicians and have followed the careers of many more through the news. Almost all of them have said or are capable of saying downright disturbing or ignorant things. That’s what makes politics so damn interesting to follow.

    Don’t be surprised next time the presidential election version of WWE’s Smackdown comes to the Twin Cities that Loveland and Kennedy are in line at the merchandise concession together with flowing twenty-dollar bills in their hands ready to buy the freshly silkscreened Michelle Bachman for–you fill in the blank–tee-shirts.

    Finally in agreement on something, they will lead others nearby in the chant “Bachmann is Awesome! Newsweek sucks!”

  4. Joe Loveland says:

    I’ll be buying a pro-Bachmann tshirt when the de-icing equipment is called in to service at Hades International Airport.

    I hear a lot of people these days saying “people who think Bachmann is stupid are underestimating her because she is really smart, much smarter than Palin.” Their evidence tends to be that she is articulate and is building a large following.

    But Bachmann says so many stupid things, I just have to believe that she is either a) stupid or b) a cynical and power hungry manipulator of the stupid. Either give me pause. The following are not the kind of verbal slip-ups that all of us make. They are stupid statements:

    “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another, then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

    “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.”

    “Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”

    “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?”

    “The President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day.”

    “And what a bizarre time we’re in, when a judge will say to little children taht you can’t say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it.”

    Critique her stupid positions, but denying her Photoshop and a generous photo edit is cruel and unusual.

    1. Gary Pettis says:

      I am tempted to pull out my list of the Stupid Things Obama Has Said. A recent one would be at the top: He recognized soldier Jared Monti as someone he actually awarded the Medal of Honor to, but Jared Monti was really killed in Afghanistan.

      Now how can the President of the United States make such a glaring error? He is stupid, is someone plagued by an inept staff, or is just an imperfect human who makes mistakes either on his own or with the help of the people on his staff.

      We could print out Joe’s list of Bachmann’s incorrect and inaccurate statements and hand them out as flyers at the next Tea Party, Republican or even Independent party rally, but, hey, why waste the paper? The rally location would only be littered by a bunch of unread flyers afterward.

      Who cares that someone is trying to make hay for the opposing party by pointing out the opposing candidate’s gaffes? It’s become so predictable and passé. Nobody really is swayed one way or another after hearing about the gaffes.

      I know, there are people on the far left that get really stoked when the Palin’s and the Bachman’s of the world say something that is factually incorrect or sounds just plain dumb. Is is because they are women? Is it because they are Republicans? Is it because they are both?

      It’s not in every far-left person’s DNA to be as forgiving of the stupid things said by strong, conservative women leaders as it is when their President says his share of stupid things. To each his/her own, I guess, but a lot of people in the left-of-center onto the far right, as well as some folks in the mainstream press now, get this and they are turning on the mute button when hearing the predictable Palin/Bachmann gaffe dribble because it passive-aggressively inches toward being anti-women rights and anti-feminism.

      Unintended Consequence: Michelle Bachmann will increasingly become more “likable” outside of her base even when she stumbles under the increasing glare of the national media spotlight.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        The Obama example is an example of misspeaking. When asked about the soldier gaffe, Obama would surely say “I made a mistake, I’m sorry.” Misstatements like that don’t bother me. That’s why I didn’t cite Bachmann’s historical misstatements. That stuff just happens, and I agree that people worry too much about them. Bachmann would say of her “John Wayne” gaffe, “I mispoke, I’m sorry.” Good enough for me.

        But Bachmann didn’t misspeak about “anti-America” or judges instructing children to practice homosexuality. Those are her heartfelt beliefs. She is convinced they are true and she stands by them. That puts them in a very different category.

        Gaffes are very forgivable in my book. You’re right, every pol has them. But baseless policy positions, defended long after they have been refuted, are not.

      2. Gary Pettis says:

        In regard to baseless policy positions, Joe:

        Every political candidate must say and do the things needed to capture his or her base. Right?

        From your point-of-view, you do not agree with Bachmann’s beliefs about “anti-America or judges instructing children to practice homosexuality.” But the vast majority of people in Bachmann’s base agree with her.

        Once a candidate’s based is dominated, then the rhetoric is adjusted to become more palatable to the nice folks on the far parameter and beyond of the candidate’s base.

        There’s a danger, of course, in this strategy. Take Obama’s position on comprehensive immigration reform. So far, lots of words but no action. The base that supported him on this issue might be left in the lurch with no reform while chances are the Republicans will make more gains in 2012.

        He promise that he’d tackle comprehensive immigration reform, but that promise is baseless because it does not reflect the political realities in play in the country–then and now

        But, gee, it sure sounded good during the campaign when Obama spoke about his vision for handling the issue of illegal immigration. Outside of his base, one could call his beliefs on immigration “Mission Impossible.”

        Speaking to a base in terms that it will identify with is powerful stuff, and it’s been done over and over again. In her base, Bachmann is currently winning the “head nodding game” even though you strongly oppose the positions Bachmann leverages to gain a gathering of like-minded supporters and potential voters.

    2. Gary Pettis says:

      I was delighted to read Roland Martin’s posting for CNN yesterday under the headline of “Bachmann ‘submission’ question was offensive.”

      Martin’s body of work as a writer puts him somewhere to the far left, but he, like others watching the debate on television or live in the audience booed or felt like booing when Byron York asked Bachmann the silly question of “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”

      As a Lutheran sunday schooler, I could have answered the question because in this specific part of the Bible, submissive is interpreted as respect or teaming together to face the ups and downs of a marriage. Like, duh?

      Fortunately, we have reached the point in media trending and fad following when the treatment Palin has received will be a memory of yesterday’s media gang piling on conservatives like Palin and Bachmann, giving way to more thoughtful and non-bias coverage of Republican and Tea Party women leaders.

      All the sign posts point in that direction and one can only hope that there will be more non-bias Mainstream Media coverage regarding liberal and conservative and men and women candidates, as we march to the 2011 election.

      It’s a good time to check our little sexist monsters at the door even if we think our monsters are cute, harmless and sources of good humor. They are still monsters. Aren’t they?

      1. Ellen Mrja says:

        Am I the only person who remembers the ideal of separation of church and state? Notice I say it’s an ideal because – yes – I know some of the Founders were Christian men, Kennedy was questioned on being Catholic, Mitt currently is on being a Mormon, God’s name is on our coinage, etc. etc.

        It’s just that we have fallen into the ways of simpletons if we believe this is the most relevant question to ask any candidate. Mind you, it gives me the willies to think of Michele submitting to her husband if by that it means he would run the White House through remote control. And let’s not kid our selves – there are born agains out there who indeed do take the idea of submission to one’s husband literally, not as a term interpreted to mean “respect” as Bachmann says.

        Why oh why can’t we keep religion out of it? Mine, I guess, is a laughable question.

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