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October 15, 2006

Saying Ney


As to why he’s not resigning now, several officials have said the congressman is financially strapped and needs his $165,200 annual paycheck and benefits as long as he can continue to receive them.

–CBS News Report.  October 13, 2006.

Why is it that news publishers continue to enjoy a virtual free ride when it comes to image selection?  Given the incredible oversight and critique the ’sphere dedicates to political writing and reporting, isn’t it time the media was held to similar account for its day-to-day visual output?

Take this weekend’s CBS story on Congressman Bob Ney, for example.  The image above is the one CBS selected from the newswire grab bag.  Of course, visual narrative can be quite subjective (which is one reason picture editors, so far, have escaped the scrutiny alluded to above).  The BAG has problems with this choice, however.

What we see here is Ney’s public face — in a mask of contrition.

This upper echelon Representative, however, was just convicted for influence peddling as part of a group of officials awash in sleaze.  In refusing to resign, Ney also stabbed his party in the back, thumbed his nose at the court and further maligned the (already lowly) reputation of the Congress.  If that’s the case, and the reporter’s words say as much, why marry that story to such an empathetic — or, at least, ambiguous photo?


Because most of us now have our own ability to scan the newswire, we have a better idea what kind of pictorial options CBS had at their disposal.  Perhaps this shot might have been more representative?  Here, for example, we get an idea of Ney as a dodger who doesn’t hold up under closer inspection.  The half-smirk not only offers a better character window, but is also instructive as to who/what CBS failed to capture with their selection.

Update 10/16/06.  5:53 am EST:

In the excellent discussion thread attached to this post, the readership perceives the CBS shot a completely different way.  The collective sees Ney not as an empathetic figure, but as a trapped and fearful one.  Regarding the second photo, the consensus is that this is a “cheaper” shot.  The point offered is, why resort to caricature when the initial image offers a more complex and revealing depiction of a man haunted?

In review, I believe my point about image selection is a valid one, but the example is contextually off.  As the thread emphasizes, the point (and strength) of the initial image is not what Ney has done, so much as what Ney faces, and has become.

(image 1 and 2: Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP.  Oct. 13, 2006, in Washington. and YahooNews.)

  • jonst

    “representative” of what? The man’s character? When? I like the top picture. He looks scared shit….and he should be. Aging, slim, GOP type white Congressmen, who are broke,and devoid of protection money, don’t fare too well where he’s going. If he isn’t terrified he’d better be. And he looks scared.

  • ummabdulla

    If you don’t know who he is – and I didn’t, when I saw the photo – it does invite sympathy. Sort of like a baby, staring at you with big eyes… and looking besieged.

  • Steve Talbert

    I also think the top printed pic is better as he looks out of it. Plus you can see who he is so that when Dems use his picture as an example of the corruption of the current administration, voters will remember who he is. I can see why you are interpreting the second shot the way you do, but people could just as easily read it that his face is larger than the others, and so more important. It almost could be that the camera behind him (the press) is actually persuing him,, so it could almost make him heroic if you didn’t read the fine print and were predisposed to think that the “Liberal” Media hunted the GOP and purposely ignored the same things from Dems,,, I think it is important that the media (print and pictures) make a point of showing that these people are NOT normal and are very Corrupt by themselves.

  • jonst

    Long ago, when I was young, I worked in prisons. I have sympathy for the man given what awaits him. And I hate Ney and his ilk. But no one deserves what awaits him. You are supposed to go to jail AS punishment. Not FOR punishment. He is going get punished daily. Or he is going to stay in a tiny room, 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. And have shit, literally, put in his food. Welcome to the American prison system.

  • weisseharre


  • readytoblowagasket

    jonst, Bob Ney is a politician who could have DONE SOMETHING about the prisons anytime he’d wanted to. Instead, he went golfing in Scotland, and now he wants to keep his paycheck. So *we* have to pay for his incarceration and his fucking bills? If anyone deserves a side order of shit with his “freedom fries,” he does.
    ummabdulla, you’re right about how Ney looks like a baby in the top image, but I think it’s even more sympathetic than that: He looks like a baby seal about to get clubbed.

  • Doctor Jay

    The first image, in a way, reminds me of the Tom Delay mug shot. It reminds me of how good politicians are at putting forth exactly the public face they want.
    The question you raise is whether the media sees its job as transmitting that public face, or deconstructing it, seeing past it. I think they are pretty confused and intimidated about that question at the moment. Well, some of them are. Fox News isn’t. It’s job is to transmit Republicans and deconstruct Democrats (when you have to show them at all, that is).

  • jonst

    You answered you own question readytoblow….”DOES anyone deserve” that? If the answer is yes we can sign you up for BushCo.

  • Rafael

    I agree with jonst, Ney does look scared, very scared. In military terms he looks surrounded and about to be finished off. The one thing I will say about the American system is that more likely than not, no matter how long it takes, you always get you deserve.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    they’re right, BAGman ~ photo #1 is haunting.
    his eyes… and all those other (camera) eyes, are on ME!
    photo #2 is just an optical distortion (anyone would look bizarre when standing too close to a super-wide angle lens). Why punish with caricature (?) rather than seek to reveal this haunting, haunted character?

  • PTate in MN

    He must have been a beautiful baby, but now he looks debauched and puffy, an altarboy with a drinking problem. He is pitiful, in part, because he doesn’t have a clue. He knows he is being punished, but he doesn’t understand what he did wrong.
    I like the first picture better though. While I agree 100% tht the media ought to be more careful, in the second picture he is baring his throat and repulsive simultaneously. I think #2 could backfire.

  • Stiff Mittens

    Could it be that everyone is right here? To me it seems that a more optimistic, “soft-hearted” individual viewing pic #1 might see the besieged Ney’s fear and be reminded of a whitetail deer mesmerized by approaching headlights. Such an individual might feel sympathy for Ney’s impending doom, believing that he must not have fully understood the potential consequences of his actions otherwise he surely would not have undertaken them. Whereas, a more cynical individual might see the apparent emotions playing across Ney’s face in pic #1 and think “crocodile tears” or “sucks to be you, asshole.”
    Perhaps this is precisely why the photo was chosen: because it plays to differing viewpoints along different editorial lines. Although many newspapers do tend to take on a general political stance (conservative, liberal, whatever), all newspapers are interested in selling more papers. It doesn’t necessarily matter to them who is buying their paper, so long as they continue to do so.

  • donna

    Ney deserves whatever he gets, just like all the other abusers in office. pity is, most of them won’t get caught.

  • marysz

    I agree with StiffMittens about Ney’s deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. He looks blindsided. He really thought he could get away with it and he’s shocked that he’s being held accountable. Obviously, Ney still doesnt “get” it.

  • readytoblowagasket

    ” ‘DOES anyone deserve’ that? If the answer is yes we can sign you up for BushCo.”
    jonst, thanks for the insult but it’s lost on me. That’s because I can’t make the moral connection you make between the actions of *BushCo* and the actions of inmates in American prisons. BushCo has the freedom to make choices; inmates don’t have any freedom. BushCo has power; inmates don’t. Ney makes $165,200 a year; the guy who shits in his food never made that much and never will. Ney will get out of jail in a few months (and call on his well-connected friends to get him a job in the private sector); the inmate disproportionately won’t get out (and doesn’t have any well-connected friends). It’s ultimately not up to me to determine what punishment Ney deserves from his fellow inmates. It’s up to them. But if someone *has* freedom and power and money and well-connected friends, I don’t have any sympathy for him if he chooses to shit all over his own gifts.
    One of the complaints about the prisoners at Guantanamo is that they fling their shit at the guards. It seems to be an effective means of communication.
    Ney has the look of someone who hasn’t had a drink in 30 days (as he informed the judge). It’s the look of someone just waking up.

  • Stiff Mittens

    I’m not sure you see the point I was trying to make. I don’t know whether Ney “get’s it” or not. I’m not proposing that this particular photo tells us anything about Bob Ney. I was trying to theorize about what the decision to use that particular photo reveals about the CBS newswire photo editor that made the decision. I think the photo plays nearly as well to people who are sympathetic as it does to people who are unsympathetic. The photo evinces a sense of just desserts (ha-ha, we got the bastard cornered and now he’ll get what he deserves) and also evokes a certain pity (poor bastard got in over his head and now he’s awaiting a series of prison shower rapes).
    From the perspective of a mainstream media outlet, the photo is well-chosen because it plays to a variety of viewpoints. It could also be rationalized as a form of journalistic objectivity in that it doesn’t take sides (albeit by taking both sides). This is clearly bullsh!t since that is not so much objectivity as it is ambivalence. This is why I find it difficult to place much faith in the mainstream news media. The news media is a business and as such the marketplace plays a role in its editorial content. Furthermore, the news media is full of partisan operatives and it’s not always easy to tell who is who. Who watches the watchmen? Editor and Publisher? Media Matters? Crooks and Liars? BAGnews? For the time being perhaps, but how long before these mechanisms are also corroded and/or subverted. Lately I am increasingly of the opinion that corruption IS purity. ;-}

  • Bob

    Photo #1 is an optical illusion too (unless the building in the background just went through an earthquake). The fisheye lens puts him at the center (as the egocentric offender deserves) and the darker backgrounds highlight his face (which has an “in your face” aspect, along with the “deer in headlights” expression.)
    I agree with those who favor #1 as the better selection.

  • jonst

    my words are wasted on you. Yours on me.

  • readytoblowagasket

    jonst, your words aren’t wasted, and neither are your experiences. But knowing there’s a disproportionate number of blacks in American prisons, I can’t help thinking about the (socially) built-in inequality of the people you’re plugging into a comparison.
    All things being unequal, my own equation goes like this: Am I the moral equal to someone in prison? Yes. Am I the moral equal to BushCo? No. But that’s admittedly more of a Canterbury Tales way of thinking than an Old Testament one.

  • ummabdulla

    What kind of prison would he go to, though? Would he be surrounded by violent criminals, or in the “country club” type?

  • Northern Observer

    I hear you.
    The larger scandal is that America has degenarated into a country that allows its prisons to be inhumane, and to be smugly righteous in this brutality. A noble country would not allow this to stand. But culturally those parts of America that are noble have steadily shrunk, to the small college towns and some parts of the largest metropolises. For the bulk of America, the values of our nations worst self expression – the Confederate States of America – rules our hearts and minds. The CSA branded and tortured its outcasts and likewise we brand and torture ours. This culture of brutality has not yet been overcome, even in “Christian” America.

  • Cactus

    I tend to agree with StiffMittens, et al., in that photo #1 is the more complex: one can see different things in it. If I were a republican, I could see it sympathetically, as The Bag suggests. If I were a democrat, I could see him haggard and hounded because he’s a sleaze. My first thoughts before reading comments was that he was attempting a smug smile that he just couldn’t pull off, but when I saw his eyes they betrayed fear and a vacuousness that probably led him to this end. His head is slightly down and he is obviously surrounded by a gaggle of photographers/reporters wanting a piece of him. It shows the human behind the scandal in a probably brief unguarded second.
    The second photo appears to me to show more cocky smugness, face up, forced political smile, eyes shadowed. It’s a fixed face that shows no second of emotional lapse. The head is slightly up and almost defiant and you can’t tell from the close angle whether he is with a group of friends, allies or reporters. Yes, it is less empathetic in that it is a closed face. Or rather, a closed expression.
    From the standpoint of the MSM, however, I would have picked #1 as well because it draws one to it, for whatever reason. If I think about seeing these two photos on a large page of the NYT, I could easily ignore #2 and turn the page, but would probably stop on #1 and perhaps read the article, which is no doubt adjacent to a nice ad.

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