NY Times Public Editor: There Was No 'Crop' of Bushes, 'No Evidence of Politics' In Photo Choices

March 9th, 2015 2:47 PM

Conservatives on Twitter all noticed how The New York Times cropped the Bushes out of its front-page photo from Selma. To her credit, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan replied by noting that technically, the photo was not “cropped” – it was not a larger photo that included both the Obama family and the Bushes. The paper didn’t alter a photograph. But the Bushes were “cropped” out – metaphorically. Their presence didn’t have “impact.”

Rather, veteran Times photographer Doug Mills found incorporating Bush into his shot made for a bad photo:

I asked The Times’s ranking photo editor, Michele McNally, about the photo this morning.

“There was no crop,” she said. “This was the photo as we received it.”

She sent me an email from the photographer, Doug Mills, who has been shooting White House and presidential photographs for many years.

Mr. Mills wrote to photo editors on Sunday to describe his process after The Times received an inquiry from Politico. Mr. Mills wrote that he never sent the photo desk a photograph that included the Bushes, and his reasons were technical ones. He wrote:

Just so you know … at the time the photo was taken, I was using a 70-200 long zoom lens. I also had a remote camera with a wide-angle lens attached to the side of the truck that took a photo at the just about the exact moment as the tighter one. As you can see, Bush was in the bright sunlight. I did not even send this frame because it’s very wide and super busy and Bush is super-overexposed because he was in the sun and Obama and the others are in the shade.

Ms. McNally showed me the photograph taken with the wide-angle lens that Mr. Mills sent to the photo desk on Sunday after the protests began.

“Technically, it’s a bad picture, and he didn’t even send it,” she said. President Bush “was totally overexposed,” she said. The photograph that was published is compositionally strong and “it has impact.”

The explanation and reasoning by Mr. Mills and Ms. McNally make sense to me.

While it would have been moving and worthwhile to see both presidents in a front-page photograph, I see no evidence of politics in the handling or presentation of the photo.

Obviously, conservatives disagree there’s “no evidence of politics” here. Announcing the photo the Times used “has impact” is code for “makes Obama look good on a notable day in U.S. racial history.”

By contrast, consider the Times on January 12, 2015. They had two large color photos with “impact” on the front page from the unity march after the Charlie Hedbo murders by Islamists. Obviously, there was no Obama in that picture to “crop” out. But the front-page news account by Liz Alderman never used the name “Obama” and waited to mention Attorney General Eric Holder being in Paris until paragraph eight.

In fact, a review of front pages from that Monday through Friday showed no focus on Obama on the Times front page that week. This story ended up on page A-12: “White House Acknowledges Error in Not Sending a Top Official to March in Paris.”

Everything the Times decides is “news” seems very carefully reviewed for its “impact” on Obama.

PS: This AP photo "cropped out" Bush more noticeably.