Democratic Convention Photo: Doctoring Reality
The image used on the cover and the contents page of the October 1, 2012, issue of National Review, in both the print and various digital editions, was altered by National Review. It is not the original photograph as provided by Reuters/Newscom, and therefore should not have been attributed to this organization, nor attributed to the photographer.
The doctored photo shows President Obama speaking to supporters at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month. Many supporters carry signs reading “Abortion” in the Obama campaign’s distinctive typeface and design. In a a similar, unaltered image on Jim Romenesko’s blog, the signs are revealed to read “Forward.”
Fowler’s statement wasn’t an apology. It was simply an explanation. But some have called for National Review to disclose the edits made to the image and apologize to Reuters/Newscom for the alteration.
Should the magazine have to do that?
At issue here are questions about accuracy, parody and reader savvy. Should an image ever be altered without explanation? Certainly many of us remember the media beating Time Magazine took after it darkened O.J. Simpson’s mugshot in 1994. Is this case much different? The settings most definitely are, but it remains that both images were changed without disclosure and both were done to make a point.
There are certain assumptions about the accuracy of photographs versus illustrations, which is why The New Yorker didn’t need to explain its satirical cover in 2008 featuring the Obamas doing a fist bump. Photographs have a lower burden of proof, and media consumers assume that photos carry a weight of truth to them. No one would ever dare edit the photos on the cover of say, a fashion magazine, would they?
The argument can be made that readers will be able to figure out on their own that the image was doctored without being told. This is National Review after all, not the National Enquirer. But is it really too far-fetched to think that those opposing President Obama would view his supporters as they are portrayed in the cover? If the signs said “Gay Rights,” or if it were Romney-backers holding up “Guns” or “Down with Obamacare,” would we find that difficult to believe?
In an age characterized by extremism and caricature, perhaps betting on the readers’ ability to spot hyperbole isn’t a winning play.
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