Maryanne Golon is the picture editor at Time magazine. She joined Time in 1983, left briefly for US News & World Report in 1996, and came back to Time in 1999. Golon has overseen coverage for every Olympics since 1984, was the on-site photo editor during Operation Desert Storm, and directed the photo spread for the 9/11 issue of Time.
Thomas Lang: Ann Coulter is reportedly unhappy with the way her cover shot came out, telling Matt Drudge that Kim Jong Il was portrayed in a more flattering manner. She has even gone as far as to mock-up a parody Time cover of you, supposedly using the same type of fish-eye camera. How come you went with the photo that you did?
Maryanne Golon: Number one, it’s not a fish-eye lens, if that makes any difference to anybody. It’s just a slight wide-angle portrait lens. The photographer’s name is Platon. Platon has a book called Platon’s Republic. He has spent the last five or six or seven years photographing different members of the American political scene — everybody from Bill Clinton to now Ann Coulter — on both sides of the fence. This is his style. This is the way he photographs.
One of the things I find really amusing about this whole situation is that Ann Coulter sat in his studio looking through his book that has all these pictures with very similar technique. It’s sort of his style — a la a photographer like William Coupon, who photographed everybody against a brown model background with the same lighting — Platon shoots everybody from a low angle with a wide-angle lens.
So I was very surprised that she was surprised at the results of her photo.
Why we chose Platon was for many different reasons. He’s never shot a cover for us before, but he has shot a lot of political figures and done really interesting photography, so we thought he’d be an interesting choice for Ann Coulter.
Also, could I add that I think she looked stunning? I think that the pictures were very flattering. I don’t understand her rage. I actually even question whether it’s just to call more attention to the cover package.
TL: The Ann Coulter photo spread included a picture that Time originally identified as “Protesters blast Coulter at the GOP convention in New York City last year.” The photo, which actually contained pro-GOP protestors mocking liberals, has since been corrected in the online version. What’s the vetting process for including photos and their accompanying captions? How did a mistake like this happen?
MG: It was a simple mistake. Everybody makes mistakes, and we made a mistake. The pictures came in from the photographer Katja Heinemann from Aurora. When the high-[resolution] files were sent to us the captions weren’t attached … They weren’t actually blasting Ann Coulter as was said in the magazine … [In fact] they were mocking the protest by the liberal side. So, it was just an honest mistake.
TL: Are the captions fact-checked?
MG: Yes, they are fact-checked. But, in this particular instance, erroneous information was provided to the person doing the caption fact-checking. So, if you look at the image, there is really no way to determine that it’s a counter-protest. It’s still a protest … If you actually look at it with a simple eye, it does appear that they are blasting Ann Coulter and they are using irony, which is a fine line. It was a mistake, and we know it was a mistake, and it was an honest mistake.
TL: With all the advances in digital photography, how do you guard against being duped by a fake? This, perhaps, is a far more serious issue than the captions.
MG: It is a far more serious issue. To begin with, I think that Time magazine has an excellent reputation, in terms of correcting errors, if we have had a problem with a photographer or something being altered in an image. But also, we identify it as such. Instead of saying it’s a photograph, we’ll say it’s a photo illustration if it’s been altered in some way. Or we’ll identify it as a photo montage.