Thursday, May 14, 2009

Any Kid Will Do

Obama Kids' Photos on a Murder Story

Having worked for newspapers for more years than I care to mention, I suspect this photo choice was boneheaded but not deliberate. At least I hope that's the case, because otherwise, this is an appalling move, potentially one with racial overtones.

Some of you may remember the newspaper feature about children's parties that was accompanied by a file photo of a clown--mass murderer John Wayne Gacy in his clown suit. Someone didn't think.

People who see conspiracies in coverage should visit the local sausage factory and see what really goes on. Before the factories close, of course.

A newspaper that once employed me accidentally ran the wrong photo of a community school board member. Three times. Which was particularly problematic because of the two members, from different boards but with identical names, one was under indictment and frequently written about; the other was not. Then-assistant managing editor Bob Keane came up with a way to keep it from happening again--he went to the library, asked for the photos of the two men and ripped them to shreds. End of problem.

Another paper ran a column about the arrival of nice, sunny weather and used a file photo of a guy sunning himself in the backyard. The latter, unfortunately, had died earlier in the year, of cancer. His mother had to be taken to the hospital after reading the paper. But it was genuine error, someone desperate for a stock photo and not realizing what had been pulled, not snark or callous choice.

I do believe the lack of honest, unbiased coverage on cable news has led many people to see all reportage as opinionated yak, not to be trusted unless the yakker happens to hold your same views. When the commentary of Larry King, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Joe Scarborough, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs all wind up mixed in with straight, hard news coverage, it's no surprise that people can't distinguish the difference anymore.

And it feeds this sense that anything goes--a meanness that says that no one is off limits, and that there's virtually no one putting on the brakes when it comes to commenting or otherwise covering people. Regardless of the consequences.

Editor John Solomon told Greg Sargent technology, not a person, was to blame.

"The theme engine, through automation, grabbed a photo it thought was relevant, and attached it to the story," Solomon said, acknowledging that the photo had gone up without a person seeing it. "There was no editorial decision to run it. As soon as it was brought to our attention, we pulled it down."

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