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Michael Shaw
Michael Shaw is a Clinical Psychologist, an analyst of visual journalism, and a frequent lecturer and writer on how politicians and the media frame political imagery. Michael's clinical training -- which is woven into his commentary -- involves the analysis of character and character styles. His research has dealt with the creative process, visual thinking, and how metaphors can create psychological insight.

BagNewsNotes is the only destination on the web dedicated 100% to visual politics and the analysis of news images.  The site also features photojournalism from top names in the field. Launched in 2004, BAGnewsNotes is closely followed by the political blogosphere; the political and visual media; the photo community; and university visual studies, communications and photojournalism programs.

In addition to his private practice, Shaw spent nine years as the consulting psychotherapist at The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), the architecture and design program and think-tank in Los Angeles. For five years before that, he served the same function at Otis College of Art and Design. Counting both experiences, he has spent thousands of hours collaborating with students and design professionals in their creative process, as well as participating in the formal and informal analysis and critique of visual images.

Shaw’s experience with cyberspace began in the early eighties. Working for a publishing technology firm in New York, he was involved in developing some of the first on-line, interactive graphic content designed specifically for the public. It was from these early services (know at the time as "videotex") that the html standard emerged, and new communication companies, such as AOL and Yahoo, first took shape.

The BAGnewsNotes site began in June 2003. Originally, it was the home for a civics tool/ visual experiment/political cartoon called BAGnews. Beginning in mid-2004, however, spurred by the photo coverage of the Bush-Kerry presidential campaign, Shaw turned his attention to this new "discipline" -- the visual analysis of political images.

Michael Shaw has been a regular front-page contributor to the Huffington Post since September '05, writing a blog feature called "Reading The Pictures."

To contact, please write to: mshaw AT bagnews (dot) com.

Entries by Michael Shaw

Reading the Pictures: The Trump 'Obama Muslim' Moment the Media Totally Missed

(77) Comments | Posted October 7, 2015 | 4:35 AM


“We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims,” an unidentified man who spoke at a question-and-answer town hall event in Rochester, New Hampshire asked the mogul at a rally Thursday night.

“You know our current president is one. You know...

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Reading the Pictures: State Proves Sandra Bland Not Dead in Her Mug Shot -- Helpful as Honey on a Biscuit

(110) Comments | Posted July 30, 2015 | 12:50 AM


How can we tell that Sandra Bland wasn't already dead last week when her mug shot was taken? Because sometime later, we can see this desk officer putting honey on a biscuit as Bland was making a phone call.

If you can excuse...

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Reading the Pictures: How to Understand the Newly Released 9/11 Photo of Dick Cheney with his Foot Up

(87) Comments | Posted July 28, 2015 | 3:23 AM


It's thoroughly obvious why this photo of Dick Cheney went absolutely viral the other day. For the left-leaning, it presents the ultimate opportunity to hate on Darth Vadar for being so callous. And for the right, the nonchalance is cowboy fuel...

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Reading the Pictures: Are We Seeing a New Level of Candidness From Campaign Photographers This Year?

(0) Comments | Posted July 14, 2015 | 3:31 AM


I'm not one of those people lamenting our visual inundation. At the same time, the volume of news photos the media is moving everyday, on top of the fact they are typically packaged in dozens, makes the consideration of any single photo, the...

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The Caitlyn Jenner VF Cover: What the Moment Called for Was Going Beyond Vanity

(1) Comments | Posted June 3, 2015 | 12:14 AM


It was a one-time opportunity. A threshold moment. Never before had a transgender person been so widely recognized, presented on the cover of an internationally-known magazine for the purpose of coming out, or into their own. It was an opportunity to mirror every...

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Reading the Pictures: Dead in the Water. Or: Ecology Is About People, Too.

(12) Comments | Posted April 23, 2015 | 8:34 AM


I was all prepared to talk about the paradox of this photo, given this lagoon will be the site of the Olympic rowing and canoe sprint events at the 2016 games in Rio. That's the path I was going down until Monday happened...

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Reading the Pictures: ISIS Attacks Iraqi Base Full of US Trainers, Ho Hum

(26) Comments | Posted February 25, 2015 | 6:36 AM


In WWII there was a saying: Loose Lips Sink Ships!!! Do we need to publicize that there are 400 U.S. Marines and other service members at the base, that there are 800 Iraqis training with U.S. and other coalition military advisers at...
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Reading the Pictures: The Optic of Family Values Just Doesn't Mix Well With the Optic of Gun Rights

(145) Comments | Posted February 13, 2015 | 8:17 AM


Seattle gets most of the national attention when it comes to Washington state, but sometimes the real action happens in Olympia, the state capitol. On Saturday the capitol building in Olympia served as a meeting ground for gun rights activists who gathered with...

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Reading the Pictures: Breaking Down the Surprisingly Humanistic Charlie Hebdo 'Muhammad' Cover

(21) Comments | Posted January 14, 2015 | 8:20 AM


If you remember, a phrase and concern that echoed through America in the shell-shocked aftermath of 9/11 was: Is irony dead?" It seemed no one could imagine humor as a conduit of meaning anymore. The wry use of words or pictures for understatement,...

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Reading the Pictures: Dysfunctional Congress Pictures of the Year

(6) Comments | Posted December 31, 2014 | 8:08 AM


Between the "Political Pictures of the Year" slideshows at Politico and Roll Call, there are more dramatic images than the ones in this post. A shot of Obama hugging a nurse who just recovered from Ebola was widely circulated,...

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Reading the Pictures: The Glass Ceiling and Gwyneth Paltrow's Legs

(0) Comments | Posted December 19, 2014 | 7:38 AM


Presenting "leading lights from the worlds of technology, business, media, and entertainment," Vanity Fair's business feature served up this group portrait from the "Code Conference," hosted by tech journalists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg in Palos Verdes. Though the guest list (below or...

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Reading the Pictures: The Senate CIA Torture Report and Our Favorite Rice Photo of All Time

(2) Comments | Posted December 11, 2014 | 3:18 AM


It's still one of my favorite photos from the Bush Administration. This ran in a NYT article in the Music section dated April 9, 2006, and it read, as we posted at the time, like "fiddling while Iraq burns."...

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Reading the Pictures: About Race and Those Ebola Handheld Thermometer Pictures on Western News Sites

(4) Comments | Posted October 28, 2014 | 8:40 AM


LA Times

Have you noticed the pictures of African health officials using handheld thermometers suddenly springing up in US news stories and photo galleries? I found the picture above in the Charlotte Observer's Daily Edit. Most assuredly, this airport...

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Obola: Visual Attacks on Obama Pick Up Right Where Kenya/Muslim Slurs Left Off

(59) Comments | Posted October 21, 2014 | 8:19 AM

It's hard to tell how much the far right, in its enduring hate for Obama, is seeing an opportunity in the Ebola hysteria, or the Ebola anxiety is feeding and re-igniting those racist and religious attacks on Obama...

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Reading the Pictures: If It Loots, It Leads: Stereotyping the Police Shooting of Michael Brown

(9) Comments | Posted August 14, 2014 | 8:19 AM



Excuse me for referring to the photos from Ferguson, following the tragic killing of Michael Brown by a local police officer, as instructive. It's not my intention to convert the pain and raw emotion...

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Reading the Pictures: Why You Don't See Photos of Hamas Fighters (and Why Western Photographers Have Been Unfairly Blamed)

(17) Comments | Posted August 7, 2014 | 11:52 AM


I can understand if the New York Times, Tyler Hicks and other conflict photographers are frustrated. Working conditions in Gaza are surely hard enough without the drumbeat of allegations and personal intimations,...

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Reading the Pictures: On the Brilliant Michelle Obama Brown vs Board of Education Site Visit Photo

(6) Comments | Posted July 25, 2014 | 8:28 AM


If you aren't completely transfixed by photos from Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq or the border right now, you might have come across this. Simply put, it's the best visual to come out of the administration in months, maybe longer. (Full backstory on the photo...

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The Open-and-Shut Assault Case Against Occupy Activist, Cecily McMillan: Just Look at the Pictures

(350) Comments | Posted May 8, 2014 | 4:20 PM

cecily mcmillan

Officer Bovell certainly not the aggressor and certainly appreciative of any misunderstanding after elbowed by Cecily McMillan when he grabbed her from behind.

cecily mcmillan

Larger angle of Reuters shot as multiple other Occupy hooligans are snatched up.

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Reading the Pictures: Were the Reuters 'Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory' Photos Staged?

(2) Comments | Posted April 3, 2014 | 8:49 AM


Following up a post last week at the NY Times Lens Blog, Donald Winslow at the National Press Photographer's Association (NPPA) website detailed the circumstances surrounding a photo story distributed last September by Reuters. Published after the Assad government's...

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Reading the Pictures: On the Photo Exploitation of Kiev: Esquire's Hashtag Mining

(0) Comments | Posted February 27, 2014 | 7:29 AM


It's called hashtag mining. And ever since Thomas Dworzak did it so creatively in these photo/scrapbooks presented by NatGeo, I was anticipating something more weird and bizarre to come.

What Dworzak did was remarkably simple. Following particular (in some instances, you...

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