In what can only be described as shameless partisan “news reporting,” the Associated Press (AP) published an image of Mitt Romney in mid-crouch, preparing for a picture with elementary school kids. The awkward pose is one thing, but what makes the image so particularly problematic is the expression on a young girl’s face immediately behind Romney. The photo, without any context, makes it look as if Romney is bending over at the girl and she is reacting to it. It is purely reckless and an obvious attempt by the news agency to humiliate the Republican candidate and throw a wrench into his surging bid for the presidency.
It should be obvious to most that many, many pictures are taken by the media that are never used. Multiple photographers are present for nearly every major news event, which means multiple angles and multiple photographs of every event. And with the advent of the digital camera, photographers are more inclined to photograph everything, rather than risk missing the “money” shot. This translates into a whole heap of pictures. News agencies and photojournalists must sift through a large amount of “throwaway” shots in order to find the best one. Using the right image can help to reinforce a story, just as using the wrong image can help to undermine it. As any good copyeditor can attest, much can be communicated to readers through what is not said, just as effectively (if not more so) than by what is said. As a professional news agency, the AP knew exactly what it was doing when it chose to publish the Romney image.
Steve Manuel, a senior lecturer at Penn State’s College of Communications, made it clear that the AP did not simply make a mistake in their image selection. As a media analyst, Manuel knows the process well:
"In this photo, while it may appear funny, AP knows exactly what viewers are thinking. It's not legitimate news. AP knows that viewers are going to chuckle and imagine what the little girl is seeing, and it makes Gov. Romney appear a bit foolish. That isn't the purpose or mission of photojournalism. Candidate or not, it is not the mission of a news organization to place anyone in a position to be ridiculed or made fun of. Reporting the news is, and this is not newsworthy."
Note that: it is not the mission of photojournalism to become the news; their job—quite obviously—is to report the news in the clearest way possible. Manuel knows, as do all readers with half-a-brain, that this photograph is neither news nor newsworthy. And there is much more political agenda behind the photograph, as Tim Graham points out in his piece at NewsBusters.
Conservatives have often been ridiculed for their distrust of the mainstream media, labeling it as “left-leaning” and “liberal.” The AP is certainly reiterating this impression with the publishing of this image. It is apparent that the use of this image is driven strictly by political agenda and does not conform to the standard code of media ethics. Many have admitted that the photo is more “funny” than it is offensive, and this may be true, but the lasting impression of the image—which is obviously what any photojournalist is attempting to capture with a “frozen” moment in time—is what is really being communicated, not “humor.” Trying to embarrass Romney and his campaign was the goal here, not being comical. I would like to know what the girl’s family thinks of the photo. I wonder if they’re laughing at the “joke.”