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July 6, 2010

The Economist v Obama

Photo illustration: The Economist. Original photo: Larry Downing/Reuters
Photo illustration: The Economist. Original photo: Larry Downing/Reuters

So, how do you clean up a pixel spill?

Aric Mayer does a great job breaking down the visual dynamics of the oily Economist Obama front cover hatchet job.  I thought I’d say a few words (through my jet lag haze, having just made LA from London) about the visual politics.

If the explanation the Economist Deputy Editor offered the NYT is disingenuous, it does serve to telegraph their motive.  Emma Duncan said the magazine wasn’t trying to make a political point, but that’s exactly what they were doing.

You can see it clearly both in the headline as well as the anchor text to Obama’s left.  The headline, “Obama vs BP,” completely personalizes the unethically doctored photo. And then, “The damage beyond the spill”, working in concert with the photo-illustration, simultaneously alludes to Obama’s supposedly slumping political fortunes (the rig hanging ominously over his head) while deploying the body language out-of-context to suggest a slumping state-of-mind.

It’s not just presumptuous, however, it’s also dated given that Obama actually gained some political traction coming off that last trip to the Gulf.  But hey, if you’re a big time news magazine, you’re watching Newsweek go down, and you think you can safely take a swipe at Obama in your US edition under the cover of transatlantic tensions, what’s a little photoshop jujitsu in the name of tossing the President into a lonely, depressed and watery downward spiraling goo?

  • bystander

    I caught this at the Media Decoder blog of the NYT. Figured it might appear here.

    The transformation of meaning from the original to the doctored is so profound, and the surgery that was performed to shift that meaning was so egregious, that I’d argue the Economist published a blatant photographic lie … on the cover of their magazine.

    So, our neo-liberal/Third Way president takes a cheap shot from the Economist at the very same time that he supports, codifies, and promotes the very policies the world elite would prefer (see: G20)? Leads me to think Yurp and the UK liked GWB a whole lot more than they were willing to let on.

  • Vigilante

    This is a cheap shot from the Economist. BHO did nothing to deserve the BP disaster. Afghanistan, however, is a different story altogether. Obama willed this fools’ errand from the beginning of his campaign to the last days of his single-termed Presidency.

    • quincyscott

      Come on. Bush invaded Afghanistan, didn’t finish the job, and then let it fester for the next six years while we blundered in Iraq. This is just another Bush mess that Obama is working to clean up.

      And on the notion of a one term presidency, I would like your take on what candidate from the Republican ranks you think is going to beat him. Palin? Romney? Somebody else that nobody has heard of yet? Half of America still thinks Obama is doing a good job, and nobody in the Republican party comes anywhere close to that level of approval. Whoever your knight in shining armor is, he better get on the ball.

      A lot can change in two years, but as of right now, the Republicans have no leaders. All they have shown voters is the ability to obstruct, to kowtow to the lunatic fringe, and to cry foul on everything Obama does, says, doesn’t do or doesn’t say. The above hatchet job on the cover of the Economist is but one example. This may be an effective way to hurt the president. But it is not a recipe for winning the White House.

  • tardigrade

    How to use and not use a disaster politically

    1) let the folks at BP fail the first few weeks. It gives the world a look into the incompetence of the company and the Bush regulators. This was a good thing for Obama

    2) let the police and worse, the Coast Guard, stop the press from documenting what was happened was BAD for Obama – he looked like the new Bush

    3) stopping the rest of the world from coming to help was also bad for Obama

    4) Now, that the scientists are screaming so that even our deaf media hears them, the Administration is ignoring them. However, if this is because of concern for ‘first responders’ (as in 9/11) and their possible exposure, the use of the dispersants sprayed and distributed the Gulf people are getting sick NOW and we have more then an environmental dénouement PLUS we have a second 9/11 of our own making.

  • DennisQ

    Do news photographers unconsciously “quote” famous paintings? The uncropped photograph suggested Picasso’s Les Pauvres Au Bord de la Mer.

    One of Mike Huckabee’s campaign photographs quoted The Adoration of the Magi, implying that the former governor of Arkansas is a religious figure, a holy man. The photograph was too close to the original to be entirely unintentional.

    Is it possible that the original photograph, with the three figures like the Picasso painting, suggests the helplessness of humanity in the face of disaster? And here’s a reach for you – does the word “damage” in the text suggest dommage, which, in French-speaking Louisiana, connotes shame?

    It’s hard to tell how much of this is intentional, if any of it is. As they say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.


    I guess it’s all perception but I didn’t see it the way you do.

    I see a contemplative man observing the awful scene. I see Obama thinking and thoughtful: just one man against that giant disabled rig in the background. Man against machine and always there is nature in the foreground and the big question: what will happen next.

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