A Picture's Worth of Bias
They say a picture's worth a thousand words. This phrase rings no truer than when it comes to most of the media's feelings toward Republican politicians.
The photo to the left was posted Wednesday on CNN's website as the featured image for an article describing Republican Bob Turner's Congressional seat win in New York. While I haven't spent any time around Bob Turner and know little about the man, I'm fairly confident that he's not an evil mastermind from a James Bond film. Thus, I think it's safe to say that CNN sorted through dozens and dozens of available photos before they found one of Turner looking absolutely diabolical.
While I tend not to get too bent out of shape over this cheap form of bias (especially in the grand scheme of a disreputable media that routinely commits far worse offenses), I'm always taken by the adolescence it stems from. It reminds me of when I was a child and used to crayon-draw unflattering pictures of my older brother (occasionally with devil horns) when I was mad at him.
While I recognize the temptation, the role of the news media in this country is an important one. There should be a certain level of maturity that accompanies how the news is presented. It's one thing if this is being done on a partisan blog site. It's quite another if it's being put out by a major news organization that claims to be fair. In the case of the Turner photo, I thought the column it accompanied was pretty fair. Yet, someone in the newsroom apparently felt the need to add their own artistic accent to the story.
This is certainly nothing new, but it seems to have grown more blatant in recent years. Case in point, Newsweek took a lot of criticism last month when they featured a cover photo of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann looking mentally unstable. While a lot of us know full well where Newsweek's political leanings are, they bill themselves as a legitimate news source. Thus, the idea that they would put forth such an obvious, agenda ridden caricature (and then try to defend it) is astonishing.
Sometimes the habit even borderlines on the perverse as it did during the 2008 presidential campaign when the Associated Press featured a photo from a Sarah Palin campaign stop. The image seemed to play off the Mrs. Robinson scene from the film "The Graduate", zoomed in on a student looking up at the Alaskan governor in wonder from a vantage point between her legs. Though I don't think the shot was done with malice toward Palin, there was certainly a sexist element to it that would have been off limits to a Democratic politician.
One of my all-time favorite examples of this pseudo-subliminal, partisan imagery also came from the 2008 presidential campaign, when ABC News posted an an article about Barack Obama and John McCain campaigning in Ohio at the same time. The faces of both men were superimposed over the outline of the state. For Obama, they used an energetic, pleasant photo. McCain's made him look like a former KGB agent who won't accept that the Cold War's over.
The larger point here is that there is a consensus in the media that the Republicans and everything they stand for are at worst evil and at best wrong. Thus, this type of imagery doesn't trigger reservations from the editors who are ultimately responsible for what is presented to readers. Again, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't a monumental issue. However, it's symbolic of an agenda-driven media culture that, like it or not, persuades public opinion.
Like any other bias in the media, it deserves some attention.