Cover of “Economist” magazine crops Gulf photo to show only Obama

The NYT’s Media Decoder blog reports:

It was the ideal metaphor for a politically troubled president.

There was President Obama on the cover of the June 19 issue of The Economist, standing alone on a Louisiana beach, head down, looking forlornly at the ground.

The problem was, he was not actually alone. The photograph was just edited to make it look that way.

The unaltered image, shot on May 28 by a Reuters photographer, Larry Downing, shows Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president, standing alongside the president. But in the image that appeared on The Economist’s cover, Admiral Allen and Ms. Randolph had been scrubbed out, replaced by the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Make sure to click on the above link to see the cover of the magazine as well as the original photo.

In response to this story, The Economist responded:

I was editing the paper the week we ran the image of President Obama with the oil rig in the background. Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.

We often edit the photos we use on our covers, for one of two reasons. Sometimes — as with a cover we ran on March 27 on U.S. health care, with Mr. Obama with a bandage round his head — it’s an obvious joke. Sometimes — as with an image of President Chavez on May 15 on which we darkened the background, or with our “It’s time” cover endorsing Mr. Obama, from which the background was removed altogether — it is to bring out the central character. We don’t edit photos in order to mislead.

I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America.

I’m not really buying this. How often have we seen magazine covers with multiple figures on the front of it who were identified in small print (pictured l-to-r)? I find myself in rare agreement with the Daily Kos blog. Diarist Jed Lewison writes:

This isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but there’s really no excuse for bending facts to support a narrative. Digital image processing can be a great way to make a point, but it’s wrong to create a fake image and pass it off as real to an unsuspecting audience. That’s the kind of thing we’d expect from the Iranian government — and they really aren’t the guys you want to emulate.

And let’s not forget the various Reuters fauxtography scandals.

The magazine endorsed Obama. What better way to try and help his sagging approval ratings than by playing the sympathy card, making him appear to be down, alone, and walking against the wind, desperate to find a solution to the oil spill crisis?

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