A Questionable Photographic Choice

Monday, July 13, 2009
Photo by Jim Wilson, via New York Times

To put it mildly, my mother isn't a fan of Sarah Palin. Raised in a fiercely Democratic household in New York City, she now lives in Massachusetts -- the only state that voted for George McGovern in 1972--she's a Democrat through and through (though not to the extent of voting for a Democrat just for the party). Sarah Palin particularly rankles her for reasons that I have never heard fully articulated (past general complaints of inexperience and incompetence) because she can't even talk about Palin without getting angry.

But none of those concerns factored into her reaction to the above picture. Glancing at my computer, where I was reading the New York Times homepage, she gasped and said "is that a dead baby?" From her quick glance at an angle, she didn't see Palin, she just saw that kid, and thought it was a lead story about some sort of atrocity rather than an analysis about why Palin resigned.

Putting aside the content of the article, which I found to be dangerously close to not having enough sources to back up the assertions laid out, I question the use of this photo both on the homepage and as a the lead photo on the print version.

The derision of Palin in the wake of her resignation has been fast and furious, and included several people jumping to diagnose her with all sorts of mental illnesses in addition to a lot of generic "she's so weird." While I suspect there was nothing sinister in the choice of this photo -- it really is one of incredibly enthusiastic fans-- that kid looks like she is in a huge amount of pain, and my mom's initial reaction of horror is one that I am sure others shared. It tells a story it was not designed to tell: one of the strangeness of Palin and her followers, and likely will send people wondering why the Times never publishes photos of Obama with a child who may be mistaken as being in excrutiating pain.


I'd love to know the decision behind the Times' photo choice. (Though I guess the people who think the Times is biased in the other direction could argue that it looks like Palin is some sort of religous figure healing the child).

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

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