The Economist has admitted that it substantially edited its widely viewed cover picture of Obama. President Obama has been criticized for what is perceived as his detached reaction to the spill for the first few weeks. The cover page showed a solitary Obama in deep contemplation. It was completely manufactured. Not only was Obama not alone in the picture, he was talking to Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president. Indeed, his bent figure is not from deep contemplation but apparently listening to the much shorter Randolph.
The picture was shown on the cover of The Economist for June 19th. It was taken on May 28 by a Reuters photographer, Larry Downing. The editing violates Reuters standards — standards that have been strictly enforced since a 2006 scandal involving an enhanced and edited Reuters picture from the Middle East.
Emma Duncan, deputy editor of The Economist, responded and admitted that they edited the photo. However, she does not appear to view it as unethical even though the content and obvious meaning of the photo was changed:
Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.
We don’t edit photos in order to mislead . . .
I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America.
I must say that I have considerable respect for The Economist but that is hardly convincing. First, few people would look at the cover and say “Wow, that really sums up “the damage to business.” Second, and more importantly, the obvious meaning of the photo was substantially altered. The position of the The Economist would rob photojournalists of any status as journalists. If photos can be substantially changed (other than for an obvious joke), why not just Photoshop these images on computers? The Economist took a conference with the President with two officials and turned it into a lonely shot of the President bent down in contemplation. That is obviously a violation of standards in the industry. The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)states as Rule 6 that “Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.” Here both the context and content of the photo was changed. I understand Ms. Randolph’s position and accept that there was not intent to mislead, but it did mislead the reader. The Economist needs to assure both readers and other journalists that this was a lapse in judgment and will not occur again.