The Washington Post's Deborah Howell has a howeller in the Aug. 3 edition of the paper revealing how shocked and amazed she was that her own paper had a lopsided tally of Obama photographs compared to how many McCain photos appear in its pages. Of course, the amusing thing isn't that the Post had far more Obama photos than McCain pics but that, regardless of the raw numbers staring her in the face, Howell still insisted it wasn't because of bias. Apparently it's just because Obama has a "great smile." I guess we can mark that trenchant observation as the best reason to cover political candidates as far as the Washington Post is concerned. It's a big win for a justification for hard news, surely.
Howell apparently was contacted by a retired USA Today reporter who alerted her to the singular fact that Obama's photo appeared more often than did McCain's in the paper's A section from June 4 to July 14. Howell got curious and replicated that study, but expanded it to the entire paper and found interesting results.
What we found: 122 photos of Obama have been published in the paper during that time to 78 for McCain, counting tiny to big. Most of those photos ran inside the paper; most on the politics page. The Page 1 photos are closer: Obama had nine to McCain's seven. Five of Obama's were above the fold; McCain had four. Obama also got more color photos, 72 to 49, and more large photos -- mostly those that spanned three or more columns, 30 to 10.
Howell also tried to see the numbers in a wider context.
To look at the phenom factor, du Cille went to the Merlin database to see how many pictures have been run of Obama since he first appeared in Post pages in 2003. That would be 1,109. McCain's pictures go back to the early days of the database, 1995, with 1,032 published. Obama is still ahead.
So, why this disparity? Howell has some excuses... er, I mean explanations.
- Obama is photogenic
- He is an historical candidate
- His backgrounds are more photogenic
- He smiles more
There you go, Debbroah. That's what I like, making a strike for serious investigation like that.
Howell has a bit of help from the the retired journo in this high minded investigation, too.
Benedetto also thought that the photos of Obama were "more candid, personal, artistic, and flattering. . . . There were few artistic photos of McCain. Most were traditional campaign shots....
I see. So, "artistic photos" are what we are interested in to illuminate the news? It isn't anything like, well, the NEWS that we are interested in?
Howell has another excuse: it isn't their fault.
The vast majority of these photos were not taken by Post photographers but by wire service shooters.
I see. Passing the buck, eh?
Then, in faux shock, the news team that brings us this Obamarama makes like they are chastened.
Ed Thiede, assistant managing editor for the news desk, said that the numbers are "eye-opening. We should be more cognizant." Du Cille and Thiede were both surprised at the numbers. Du Cille said, "The disparity in the numbers is indeed hard to reconcile. As photojournalists, we always strive to be fair. We have tried to be balanced, but it seems that in a large operation such as ours, we need to monitor the use of political images even more closely."
And Howell ends with this stern warning to her fellows...
But these kinds of discrepancies feed distrust on the part of readers, especially conservative ones, who already complain that The Post is all for Obama.
Do ya think!?
Here I'd like to suggest a reason why Obama gets such favorable photos. I'd like to suggest that, contrary to Howell's claims to the contrary, there is bias in his favor indeed. Even if we take Howell's excuse that the photos that come from stringers and wire service shooters tend to give a bit of cover to the paper, it is still bias influencing those shots. Those wire service guys are all going for the Obama as Messiah shots of which we've become so boringly familiar. They are looking for, competing for, those "artistic shots" of Obama looking beneficent, surround in light, sporting a halo even. And the papers eat these photos up and then clamor for more. And it's all driven by the photographer's personal bias and excitement for Obama on one hand, and their assumptions that their editors back in the office similarly want the newest and most Obamarific photo and will pay handsomely for them.
There is the bias right there. Its endemic in the entire process from star-struck photog, to moon-eyed photo editor, to sycophantic page editor, to the printer and out the door to a unsuspecting public.
Howell next says she is going to tackle the actual stories to see if there were more Obamaholic writers than those intoxicated by McCain's story. I am curious who she will blame this time? If it is the wire service photographer's fault for the overwhelming disparity in Obama photos, maybe Howell will blame the Obamasized dictionary writers who surely gave them too many Barackable words to use?
Why, it's all just too Obamalicious.