For those of you with access to the Saturday New York Times, have a look at the front page story story: "Where to Catch the Sights, Sound and Smell of a Campaign." You can also click here to read it. But my observations are not about the text. The photos that accompany the story are what grabbed my interest. In fact, you don't really have to read it to get the story.
The story is about how each presidential candidate works the rope line before and after their scheduled events. Obama's rope lines have a rock star feel to them and he moves through them with efficiency. Senator Clinton, like her husband, loves the rope line and lingers and chats. John McCain works the rope line dutifully and invites a respectful distance.
OK, got it. Now let's talk about the pix of each rope line crowd.
The photo of Mrs. Clinton's rope line is included in the online version of the piece. Have a look. Three old white guys. We have this stationery story in my town where these four old retired guys bring folding chairs and sit outside, read the paper and watch the traffic go by. At first glance I thought it was the folding chair quartet.
Allow me to describe the other two photos.
John McCain's rope line crowd could be members of a single family. The all-American family. No facial hair, no blemishes. Looks like they all got haircuts before heading out to the rope line. And I know they are not all blondes but when I first saw the picture, they all looked blonde to me. And they all have this reverential look as if, you know, a President may be walking by soon. They are ready.
Last but not least we have the Obama rope line. It's a big, feisty crowd and they look like they are about to bust through the rope line. It's an ebullient and animated crowd. You can almost hear them shrieking. They are people of all shapes, sizes, ages. I see an Asian-American and a few white faces but I looked closely and more than once. At first glance, the crowd appears to be entirely African American. Looks like a wild bunch, maybe even disorderly.
The New York Times, like other papers, makes intentional decisions about the photos they choose. During my years at GLAAD, we battled with newspapers every June during Pride month as photo editors selected photos of drag queens on roller skates to accompany text about the parade. Occasionally (not often enough), we succeeded in persuading a newspaper to include a picture of lesbian moms pushing strollers. Editors will tell you that when folks think Pride Parades, they think drag queens. I would argue that they think this because those are the images they give us. And we know full well that the vast majority of people only experience parades through news coverage.
So too with the New York Times and rope lines. Let's reinforce every stereotype about each of these candidates by picking three photos, each of which affirm every one of the sixty billion polls we hear about sixty billion times a week from the best political team in the Milky Way.
If photos didn't have an impact on our attitudes, there wouldn't be a print advertising industry.
So next time you open the paper, pay a bit more attention to the photos. A picture can be worth a thousand words. But if the editor takes the easy way out, those thousand words tell us way more about the photo editor than the story itself.