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A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Old Media Bias Posts

Sunday, October 2, 2005  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

ZombieTime thrashes the San Francisco Chronicle in a post on a particular photo used in the paper’s coverage of anti-war demonstrations.

So thorough was this particular expose that the Chron would have been well advised to apologize for the disingenuous photo that concealed far, far more than it conveyed. If old media hubris prevents such useful transparency, then the paper ought to have kept silent.

No surprise here, like CBS’s behavior during Rathergate a year ago, or Dan Rather’s incredible conversation with Marvin Kalb a week ago, the paper’s “reader’s rep” did not seriously respond to very well documented criticism, but instead ran a defense of the paper’s conduct in today’s paper:

In complaints to me, to several reporters, to the managing editor and to the editor of SF Gate, e-mailers asserted that the paper had manipulated a front-page picture of a young San Francisco protester by cropping out radical imagery nearby. By doing so, they said, the paper was propagandizing, part of an effort to falsely portray the demonstration as centrist.

The tortured defense of the use of the photo that follows is so lame that it is almost a parody of a readers’ rep response. Dick Rogers job is apparently to rebut widespread reactions among readers. Rather than readers’ rep, perpahs we can have an “Editors’ Apologist” title.

Go read ZombieTime’s post and look at the pictures, and take particular note of the caption on the first Chron photo. Read the Rogers column. It should actually be far more worrisome to old media that Rogers sincerely believes what he writes than if in fact he was just spinning for a deeply embarassed “newsroom”.

A paper or a network committed to salvaging its reputation in such a situation publishes the e-mail it received –do we really trust the Chron to summarize the e-mails?– and then respond, paragraph by paragraph to ZombieTime’s critique. The length of such a response is not a problem at least at the internet site. Instead, like CBS and the forged documents, the paper’s response repackages the story in a fashion favorable to itself and doubles down.

My favorite bit:

ZombieTime writes:

Because the whole truth — that the girl was part of a group of naive teenagers recruited by Communist activists to wear terrorist-style bandannas and carry Palestinian flags and obscene placards — is disturbing, and doesn’t conform to the narrative that the Chronicle is trying to promote. By presenting the photo out of context, and only showing the one image that suits its purpose, the Chronicle is intentionally manipulating the reader’s impression of the rally, and the rally’s intent.

Readers’RepRogers responds:

The Chronicle photo didn’t exactly shout “Middle America.” It was far more dramatic and displayed the protester in far more detail. If the newspaper was setting out to “de-radicalize” the scene, it did a pretty lame job. If the paper wants to sanitize a protest, it should forget tight shots of radicals in disguise and go for pictures of suburban moms with young children. Now that’s centrist.

The summary of the criticism isn’t fair, and the reply isn’t responsive.

Mr. Rogers, since the paper used the photo to convey some sense of the rally and tagged the student as part of a youth leadership group, shouldn’t the paper have explained more about the youth leadership group and its adult leadership?

Did the photo inform or mislead. It clearly misled. That’s the point. The only point.

HT: Powerline.

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