In early May, the UK Times Online published a tough story about Obama’s softening resolve on campaign promises. The opening paragraph states: “President Obama is on the verge of breaking two key campaign promises in his troubled attempt to shut Guantánamo Bay–with plans to revive the military tribunal system set up by George Bush and to continue the indefinite detention of up to 100 inmates.”
The tough line is fair. The problem is the photograph that accompanies the story is not. The image shows Obama mopping his face as if he were sweating in a sauna. Presumably, the arty idea is that Obama is so under pressure from broken promises that he is nervously sweating. However this is not art show but journalism.
The reader has no way of knowing : Did the image capture Obama in the exact moment of nervous distress due to the Gitmo topic or was it simply a case where the air conditioner was broken? The caption does not say. In fact there is no caption.
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StinkyJournalism says this is an unfair and deceptive use of a photograph. It is certainly a criticism to say (or show) someone sweating under pressure. In this case, with no caption, we must assume it is a dramatization –something that could be true.
However, removing a news photo out of it’s real context (the date, time and place and what was actually happening) and placing it within a new context (that may or may not be true, or even remotely related), transforms the photograph from a descriptive news image to an artistic fictional expression of Times editors. (It is possible, of course, that the image captures Obama in the exact moment at a press conference answering a question about Gitmo and breaking promises–but not likely).
Out of time and space, the Obama image shown above is not journalism as an unbiased description of reality but an invention born of editors’ editorial projections into an image that disregards and disrespects the traditional values of news photography. From StinkyJournalims’s perspective, The Times folks took the content and sought an image that matched their belief–not the truth that represented Obama’s actual state of mind and emotions. Such interpretive dance with reality belongs in art class and not in The Times.