Reading The Pictures: Placing Edwards And Obama In A Dark Alley

11/15/2007 05:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


How much story management can you do with a photograph?

The shot above is the image attached to the NYT article anticipating the Democratic Las Vegas debate. The thrust of the article (drum-roll, heavy sigh) is whether Hillary can: "erase the unflattering image that her chief rivals, and her own mistakes, have helped create."

My question is, to what extent is the Times either fronting for Clinton, or otherwise serving as an amplifier for a fine-spun line-of-defense accusing the boys of picking on the girl. Two weeks ago, the Clinton campaign tried to set up the same story line just prior the debate in Philadelphia with a video intimating that the boys were piling on. Then last week, Bill Clinton did the terrific disservice of blurring the definition of swiftboating -- which I understand to mean a particularly scurrilous and extended attack on a candidate's character, not his or her politics -- by accusing the boys of trying to swiftboat his wife.

And now we have this, the perfect fodder for a caption contest: "Yeah, you hit her for flip-flopping over the drivers licenses, and I'll knock her over the head after she runs overtime in the lightening round."


Post debate follow-up:

Looking back at the image in the aftermath of the debate, it seems the "bully boy defense" played much better this time. Not only was Edwards openly booed for attacking Clinton (albeit in a cheap and desperate sort of way), but Clinton was able to state -- in answer to a direct question whether supporters, including her husband, had been "exploiting gender as a political issue during this campaign," that she wasn't playing "the gender card," but instead, playing "the winning card."

The beauty of her response, however, was to then tack on the Harry Truman quote: "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen."

By reframing the woman's traditional domestic space (especially going back to Truman's era) as a political boxing ring, Clinton managed to do exactly what she claimed she wasn't, which was emphasizing her gender while simultaneously disavowing it as playing any role at all.

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(image: Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images. 2007. Via