Checking out The New York Times Web site’s newly (and subtly) redesigned Politics section, I noticed, tucked into a column near the bottom of the section’s landing page, a somewhat strange grouping of candidate photos:










There’s Clinton (calm, happy, glowing) and Obama (understated, confident, ensconced in Presidential Shadow)…and then there’s McCain, looking like joker, smoker, and midnight toker all rolled into one—and vaguely like Jim Carrey in…well, any movie Jim Carrey’s ever made.

There are several criteria one can use to gauge the fairness of the media’s treatment of presidential candidates; whatever metric you employ, though, I’m pretty sure the manic McPhoto doesn’t pass the equal-treatment test. Which is somewhat silly to point out, I realize…but it’s also silly that the Times chose, in this context, to display such a ridiculous picture in the first place. McCain is one of the most photographed men on the planet; surely the paper could have found an image of him as (relatively) dignified as the ones it selected for his fellow candidates. Instead, it published a picture whose thousand words, boiled down to their essence, put the “nut” in “nut graf.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.