October 14, 2012

Did Ryan Campaign Fake Photo Op at Ohio Soup Kitchen, and Did Media Enable It?

After greeting and thanking a handful of volunteers from St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Canfield, Ohio — who said they typically visit the St. Vincent DePaul Society every Saturday and serve food from 10 to 11:30 a.m. — Ryan, his wife and their young children headed to the kitchen, donned white aprons and offered to clean up some dishes.

Ryan stood at the sink and took some large metal pans that did not appear to be dirty, soaped them up and rinsed them, remarking as the cameras clicked and the TV cameras rolled that he had spent a summer washing dishes when he was younger.

–via WAPO (“Reporters barred from covering Paul Ryan exchange with homeless Ohioans.“)

Looking at the pictures published by CBS, AP, NBC and the NYT, it appears as if Paul Ryan rolled up his sleeves and helped clean up  after a meal served at an Ohio soup kitchen. That’s in contrast, though, to the WAPO post which indicates Ryan not only arrived after all the homeless diners had left, but also after the kitchen was cleaned up.  Although cautiously worded, the WAPO story indicates that Ryan, with his family present and donning aprons, took already clean dishes, then soaped them up and washed them for the cameras as if he was really contributing.

Because there have been so many allegations made about the Romney/Ryan campaign and truth telling, my question is: did Ryan in fact stage his involvement in the clean up of the meal, and to what extent did the press collude with the campaign to make it appear so?

Whereas several outlets published photos of Ryan getting “hands on,” not all indicated the potential misrepresentation. Take the shot above by NBC reporter Alex Moe, for example, who published this photo to Instagram. The caption of her post is technically accurate: “Paul Ryan washes dished at soup kitchen outside Youngstown, OH.” For those who know no better, however, it gives no sense Ryan was washing clean dishes.

(click for full size)

This photo posted on the website of CBS affiliate WKBN conveys the same impression, the article even stating how Ryan “completed chores” and earned the appreciation of a local resident for his expression of caring.

Still, WAPO reporter Felicia Sonmez observed the dishes to be clean and I spoke last night with another journalist who was there who also observed them to be clean. According to the person I spoke with, the dishes Ryan was working on were already out when the photographers and reporters were ushered in but the kitchen appeared to have been cleaned, things had already been put away and the staff was ready to go home.

The AP and the NYT also published photos, the AP also supply a caption that was technically true but not true to the context.  It read:

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his wife Janna wash pots at St. Vincent DePaul dinning hall, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 in Youngstown, Ohio.

The NYT, to its credit, indicated in its campaign summary, also by way of the pool reporter (who I believe was WAPO’s Sonmez) that although “the family put on aprons and washed several large pans… they did not appear to need washing…. There also was no one to serve at the soup kitchen, as breakfast had ended.”

Looking at the two photos above as well as this photo by Max Whittaker for the New York Times…

the kitchen does look quite clean. And then, there does seem to be a preponderance of cleaning liquids in the photos. Me thinks he doth clean up too much?  You might also want to take a look at two photos by AP’s Mary Altaffer.

This one right above, which pops open to 960 wide, couldn’t be more utilitarian, showing Ryan scrubbing a pot with his wife carting a big serving dish around. Also note the scrubbing pad propped conveniently at the front edge of the basin just where we can see it. The way everything is neat and neatly arranged, it’s not hard to imagine that the fix is in. Contributing to that sense is the picture below, also from Altaffer, which expands to a whopping 3980 pixels wide.  If you move around in it, you’ll see that the two pans show areas of discoloration from wear over time but not much evidence of anything else.

This story stands to offer one more blow to the integrity of this campaign, as well as the credibility of the media, particularly visual media to keep politicians honest. Of course, I  can imagine people looking at this story and  just waving a hand, saying this kind of pretend happens every day. If it does, however, it’s not like the whitewash, if that’s what’s it is, is so blatantly in of our face.

Certainly, I’d be quite interested in hearing what CBS, NBC and also AP have to say about what happened specifically in that kitchen, and in a larger context, what obligation they feel they have for calling it out as opposed to parsing captions and other background information in order to distribute potentially tainted pictures and stories with just enough deniability.

UPDATE 1 – 8:20 PST

Via shepherdcnn (Shawna Shepherd) on Instragram with the phrase: @PaulRyanVP washes a few dishes at a Catholic charity soup kitchen in OH.

UPDATE 2 – re: Shepherd diptych 8:45 PST

There is someone with a Catholic Charities t-shirt in the background of this photo at a sink although the kitchen looks otherwise spotless. From the published reports and the account I was given by a reporter on hand, the kitchen workers were ready to leave by the time Ryan started washing. What is the timeline in the diptych here? Did Ryan don the apron before or after talking to the children? And if before, which station was he using? Because this pot also looks clean besides wear marks inside on the bottom, does it further indicate Ryan was washing for show?

UPDATE 3 – 11/15

The head of the Ohio soup kitchen today strongly criticized the Ryan campaign and confirmed the photo op a sham. He also said the campaign used the sight without permission and he’s now worried the visit might jeopardize his funding.

(photos: Alex Moe/NBC via Instagram; CBS; Mary Altaffer/AP, Max Whittaker for The New York Times; Shawna Shepherd/CNN)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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