Jul 6, 2010

Doctored Image, No Bias?

President Obama on the magazine cover  and in the original  photograph with Charlotte Randolph, president of a Louisiana parish, and  Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard.
On the right, Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama on the magazine cover and in the original photograph with Charlotte Randolph, president of a Louisiana parish, and Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard.

A metaphor for a politically troubled president? Fun with Photoshop?

There was President Obama on the cover of the June 19 issue of The Economist, standing alone on a Louisiana beach, head down, looking forlornly at the ground, presumably at a pile of garbage, perhaps the flag.

The problem was, he was not actually alone in the picture. The photograph was just edited to make it look that way. So what? It's cover art. Just ask OJ and Time Magazine, right?

The unaltered image, shot on May 28 by a Reuters photographer, Larry Downing, shows Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president, standing alongside the president. But in the image that appeared on The Economist’s cover, Admiral Allen and Ms. Randolph had been scrubbed out, replaced by the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. Oh, that's what everyone's pissed about. It wasn't tar brown.

When it comes to its own photographers, Reuters has stringent standards regarding photo editing. “Reuters has a strict policy against modifying, removing, adding to or altering any of its photographs without first obtaining the permission of Reuters and, where necessary, the third parties referred to,” Thomson Reuters said in a statement on Sunday.

Editors from The Economist had no comment when asked on Friday about the cover image.

Reuters has had a photo-editing controversy of its own in 2006 after one of its freelance photographers altered images of the Israeli military incursion into Lebanon to make the damage from Israeli warplanes appear more severe. Reuters later stopped working with the photographer and removed his images from its photo archives.

Emma Duncan, deputy editor of The Economist, said this about the cover,

"I was editing the paper the week we ran the image of President Obama with the oil rig in the background. Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.

We often edit the photos we use on our covers, for one of two reasons. Sometimes — as with a cover we ran on March 27 on U.S. health care, with Mr. Obama with a bandage round his head — it’s an obvious joke. Sometimes — as with an image of President Chavez on May 15 on which we darkened the background, or with our “It’s time” cover endorsing Mr. Obama, from which the background was removed altogether — it is to bring out the central character. We don’t edit photos in order to mislead.

I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America."

So settle down, ya'll. It's not political. It's just a crappy cover! Okay? It's not like they broke a story about a General who's shining light on a war that's all but forgotten about in America even though it's costing us a Trillion dollars to fight it. Rolling Stone, people! Can we get back to cat pictures now?

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