A Picture’s Worth of Bias

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. This phrase rings no truer than when it comes to most of the media’s feelings toward Republican politicians.

The photo to the left was posted Wednesday on CNN’s website as the featured image for an article describing Republican Bob Turner’s Congressional seat win in New York. While I haven’t spent any time around Bob Turner and know little about the man, I’m fairly confident that he’s not an evil mastermind from a James Bond film. Thus, I think it’s safe to say that CNN sorted through dozens and dozens of available photos before they found one of Turner looking absolutely diabolical.

While I tend not to get too bent out of shape over this cheap form of bias (especially in the grand scheme of a disreputable media that routinely commits far worse offenses), I’m always taken by the adolescence it stems from. It reminds me of when I was a child and used to crayon-draw unflattering pictures of my older brother (occasionally with devil horns) when I was mad at him.

While I recognize the temptation, the role of the news media in this country is an important one. There should be a certain level of maturity that accompanies how the news is presented. It’s one thing if this is being done on a partisan blog site. It’s quite another if it’s being put out by a major news organization that claims to be fair. In the case of the Turner photo, I thought the column it accompanied was pretty fair. Yet, someone in the newsroom apparently felt the need to add their own artistic accent to the story.

This is certainly nothing new, but it seems to have grown more blatant in recent years. Case in point, Newsweek took a lot of criticism last month when they featured a cover photo of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann looking mentally unstable. While a lot of us know full well where Newsweek’s political leanings are, they bill themselves as a legitimate news source. Thus, the idea that they would put forth such an obvious, agenda ridden caricature (and then try to defend it) is astonishing.

Sometimes the habit even borderlines on the perverse as it did during the 2008 presidential campaign when the Associated Press featured a photo from a Sarah Palin campaign stop. The image seemed to play off the Mrs. Robinson scene from the film “The Graduate”, zoomed in on a student looking up at the Alaskan governor in wonder from a vantage point between her legs. Though I don’t think the shot was done with malice toward Palin, there was certainly a sexist element to it that would have been off limits to a Democratic politician.

One of my all-time favorite examples of this pseudo-subliminal, partisan imagery also came from the 2008 presidential campaign, when ABC News posted an an article about Barack Obama and John McCain campaigning in Ohio at the same time. The faces of both men were superimposed over the outline of the state. For Obama, they used an energetic, pleasant photo. McCain’s made him look like a former KGB agent who won’t accept that the Cold War’s over.

The larger point here is that there is a consensus in the media that the Republicans and everything they stand for are at worst evil and at best wrong. Thus, this type of imagery doesn’t trigger reservations from the editors who are ultimately responsible for what is presented to readers. Again, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a monumental issue. However, it’s symbolic of an agenda-driven media culture that, like it or not, persuades public opinion.

Like any other bias in the media, it deserves some attention.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
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  • rush5150

    In regards to the Palin shot above, it was definitely sexist.

    The reasons this wouldn’t have been done to a Democrat candidate are:
    1. No one wants to see a female democrat’s legs
    2. You couldn’t see in between them due to weight or lack of a razor.

  • Proe Graphique

    A suggestion for all conservatives who are going to be on the cover of a national magazine; don’t let them take your picture. The photographers who are in on the fix will tell you too look this way and that and open your eyes wider, etc, and you’ll do it, and the editors will pick the one that makes you look like an idiot. Get your own photographer to shoot flattering pictures, get some nice glossy 11 x 14’s, walk in to the Newsweek photo shoot, hand the photographer the one and only shot you want to be on the cover and walk out.

    Period. They’ll whine and make you seem unreasonable. Too bad. Hand them the shot. Walk out. I repeat: period. Stop playing their game. They’re laughing at you.

  • Bob Weber

    I am honestly beginning to wonder why these news media types are “liberal”. They are supporting a president who has done little to forward their agenda, has followed many of the Republican administration’s parties, got involved with another war and either wasted or stolen millions of dollars in money under the guise of ‘green energy’. Still they print wild eyed pics of Michelle Bachmann and Bob Turner. I think it’s time the liberals in the country, specifically those working for major media outlets, wake up and stop slyly endorsing Obama, Pelosi and Reid and find candidates to start finding viable people to run this country.

  • Proe Graphique

    Having spent many years on the graphics and visual end of the media industry, I can assure anyone with doubts that the author is correct in his supposition: not only are all images and graphics poured over carefully in those departments, but they are absolutely chosen often on the biases of the person choosing, and this includes political biases. Bernie has made it clear that this kind of thing is no accident, but such observations about the media can never be made enough.

    Beware the candidates whom the media is treating with kid gloves, like Romney, because it’s a set-up: they see a person whose centrist views contrast less with Obama’s, and the moment they get their way and usher him in as the nominee, they’ll destroy him with mockery and attacks on minutia while Obama gets a free ride. It happened with Dole and McCain. 2012 is the biggest we have seen in decades. Expect them to pull out the stops after January. Articles like this can not be written enough before that happens.

    • salvatore

      Why do you mention Dole and McCain and not Bush 43? Did he receive less mockery and fewer attacks?

  • CCNV

    I love the pic of Mr. Turner! To me, it looks like he’s probably pointing and laughing at the losing democratic candidate on Tuesday night.

    Obummer’s pics always have the puppet strings Photoshopped out, and appear to have been pulled from his narcissistic photo album of practiced evil grins.

    Come on, 2012!