04/03/2006 01:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading the Pictures: Look on the Fuzzy Side



So, what's with the blur?

I was particularly interested in two shots which made prominent appearances on Sunday. The top image -- concerning Darfur -- was on the cover of the NYT Mag. The shot below led a TIME story about Iraqi militias.

For weeks now, the White House has relentlessly propagated the point that the press only focuses on negative stories. I think it's having an effect. Both stories take dire political and humanitarian situations and stretch to offer a silver lining.

In the first story, because simply no one seems willing to stop a genocide, the article heralds the idea of taking the perpetrators to court. In the second, if the Mahdi Army and other militias have largely usurped the role of U.S. and Iraqi regulars, well... it's nice to hear militia fighters don't think a civil war has yet broken out.

When a story strays too far from its underpinning reality, it's not unusual for the accompanying photo to provide some exception. At best, these visuals illustrate that the situation defies focus. As they speed off in some other direction, however, these pictures implicate the story as the point of the fuzziness. (In fact, take the words away and what you plainly see are two problems quickly getting away from us.)

News organizations pressured to pretty up disaster can amp the color, shape shift and triumph a "GLASS NOT EMPTY!" story line as much as they want. But if the underlying facts are that disparate (not to mention, desperate), then the only impression they can possibly leave is one of obscurity.

For more of the visual, visit

(image 1: Lynsey Addario/Corbis, for The New York Times. New York Times Magazine. April 2, 2006. Cover. image 2: Franco Pagetti for TIME. April 2, 2006.