Culture

Media Bias Goes Far Beyond Language

Kellyanne Conway is interviewed outside the White House in March. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
Kellyanne Conway was profiled in New York magazine, and the photos are typical of the portrayals of conservatives.

Editor’s Note: This piece is reprinted from Acculturated with permission.

Recently, New York magazine published a profile piece on Donald Trump’s White House counselor and campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. The profile itself is well written, and overall I found it to be fair and interesting. That said, when I saw the accompanying photos, I couldn’t help but be taken aback. I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years, and I’ve done editorial and corporate headshots before. What I saw in New York magazine is something I would never present to a client.

Below is the photo used in the piece:

As you can see, the photo uses unflattering light. As you can tell from the shadows, it’s diffused, but is still not all that pleasing. Any photographer with any experience shooting headshots will tell you that having a subject stare straight ahead into the camera is a poor choice. Most people have an issue with one eye being slightly larger and sometimes not aligned entirely with their other eye. The easiest way to address this is to have subjects slightly turn their heads to the side. Also, there were no touch-ups on Conway’s face. She is a 50-year-old woman, and no photo-editing software can make her look 20 years younger, but some simple edits can easily make the photo appear more pleasing.

I took it upon myself to download a copy of the photo and edit in Photoshop. Without the source image, my options were limited due to the lack of detail in the photo file. Still, after only ten minutes, I produced the following image:

The touch-ups are light and realistic, but it certainly is a more flattering portrait of Conway.

It likely would not have bothered me so much if I didn’t see something similar to this in the past. Bias in journalism can, unfortunately, extend to bias in photojournalism. Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann ran in the GOP primary for president beginning in 2011. An early favorite when the campaign started, Bachmann was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine. The editors selected the following picture:

It’s as if the staff at Newsweek went through every image they were given and picked the worst one to use. What initially stands out are her eyes. Some might go so far as to call them “crazy eyes.” People tend to freeze up and look completely unnatural when attempting to pose for these images. It is up to the photographer to persuade the subject to relax. It makes the process move along smoothly as well. Also, the harsh lighting in this photo, like the lighting in the portrait of Conway, is an embarrassment. There’s a very noticeable shadow going across her forehead. This photo too, was not edited in any way.

Bachmann is not an unattractive woman. While the image below has editing that goes a little too far for my taste, the photo is much better than the Newsweek cover. The lighting is soft and even. And the depth of field makes the picture a lot less distracting.

It’s impossible to prove that the bad photos in question were selected for political reasons, but if you look at Michelle Obama, for example, whenever she appears on a magazine cover, she looks stunning. Michelle Obama is 53 years old and looks terrific for her age but every portrait of her features very soft lighting, no distractions, and enough editing to remove almost every blemish.

If there were a picture of Michelle Obama that looked anything like the image of Kellyanne Conway or Michele Bachmann, people would lose their minds. If you go here, you can see images of Michelle Obama on covers of everything from Time to Vogue, looking terrific in every image.

Such trivialities are not limited to women. Below is a Time magazine cover of Mitt Romney; the lighting is flat, and it makes him look much older than he is:

Compare the image of Romney to one Time used of Barack Obama. It is extremely well lit, giving the image a mysterious vibe while at the same time making Obama look like a striking figure.

All of these images remind us that bias in the media isn’t limited to written or spoken words. As the history of visual propaganda reminds us, images can be as powerful as words in promoting ideology. And since the clichés are true — every picture tells a story and a picture is worth a thousand words — perhaps conservative men and women in the public eye should start demanding final approval of the images the mainstream media use of them. Or at least insist on using their own photographers.

— Jay Caruso is the assistant managing editor at RedState.com. He lives in Atlanta. This piece originally appeared in Acculturated, and it is reprinted here with permission.

READ MORE:

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More