It’s the Little Things That Count

AP Wideworld/J. Scott Applewhite
(Click for larger version)

Last Wednesday, President Bush gave a speech at a high school in Falls Church, Virginia, promoting his education plan. The Washington Post ran a story about Bush’s remarks the next day, along with a picture of the president standing in front of what appeared to be a row of lockers emblazoned with the words “STRENGTHENING OUR SCHOOLS.” (You can view both the story and the picture here.)

As it turns out, Bush was standing in front of a painted backdrop. The Post’s photo doesn’t make that clear, but the Associated Press photo featured above — which shows the whole stage — does (click on the image for a larger version). This administration is well known for using carefully chosen backdrops to put forth its message, of course. But here they’re playing a visual trick — fabricating a backdrop to make it look as if Bush really is standing in front of a row of lockers, not in a generic hall. And the Washington Post simply plays along.

Now, contrary to suspicions in some quarters, we don’t typically ask a lot of our press corps — simply an accurate recounting of an event would be good, for starters. But by providing a misleading visual to its readers without elaboration, the Post fails even at that very basic task. As one of our readers put it, “if a paper can’t run a photo which truthfully captures the nature of an event, it shouldn’t run one at all.”

Hard to argue with that.

Brian Montopoli

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.