June 22, 2005

Ed Klein and Matt Drudge's Stolen Moments

Ed Klein’s Attack Book, "The Truth About Hillary," and Matt Drudge’s Profile of It, Blatantly Misuse a News Photo to Slander the Clintons.  Doing Some "Photojournalistic Forensic Work," the BAG Takes Apart the Propaganda and Breaks Down the Image.


What if you are a former Newsweek editor and a former editor in chief of The NYT Magazine (which means your name these days is associated with a lot of formerly) and you decide to cash in by writing a book slandering Hillary Clinton, but you really couldn’t bother doing much original investigation or research? 

Besides rehashing a lot of old information — much of it either unsubstantiated or already discredited — maybe you decide to do a little character assassination based on gossip, some known sleaze and some well worn sexual stereotypes.  One thing you set out to do — I’m assuming, to get a rise out of the tabloid set — is to paint the former first lady as a lesbian because she can’t  keep her husband’s full attention, and because she knew or knows lesbians.  Playing up the theme, you figure you could extend the stereotype into the political arena in order to conclude that the potential presidential candidate is personally and politically frigid.   

To help drive your point home, you decide you could use a couple pages of pictures in this book.  Of those photo pages, you conclude at least one must show the husband allegedly consorting with other women.  You’re convinced that once readers see these pix, they will also realize that a Senator who can’t even manage her own household could never manage a whole country.   

So, you find one shot taken at a formal dinner in which a young lady is standing a little too close to The First Squeeze.  To really "drive the nail," though, you pull out the more damning evidence — your smoking gun.


With this second shot, you provide incontrovertible evidence of the husband acting illicitly, thus rejecting his wife.  Because the picture is so uncomplicated in its implication of guilt, you might even feel it provides the world a contemporary update on the man’s incessant affairs (not to mention, the amorality practiced and condoned by both he and his spouse). 

You label the picture: "Bill mouth-kissing a supporter." 

Of course, you have no idea who this woman is, but you decide to call
her "a supporter" to subtly suggest that this event is about him, and
that she — as a "supporter" — is in attendance specifically for him
(regardless of what the hat says).  Of course, you are also pleased
this shot is a tight close up.  Because, even though there are eyes
(and cameras) all around, the "central action" is so
hot and the surrounding information is so constricted that the
suggestion of intimacy takes precedence over all other possible

Then, with the release date for your handiwork just two days away, your
publicity folks have a great idea. They decide to feed your slam dunk
"evidence" to Matt Drudge, who only has the largest right-wing internet
following on the planet. Before the image makes the bandwaves however,
it gets a little preparation.


For one thing, it gets blown up (this is the actual size from Drudge)
so it has the feel of something shot by a seedy private investigator
with a telephoto lens. Also, it shows up pretty dark. So dark, in fact, that it carries the connotation of both a stolen moment and an intentionally illicit act. 

Of course, the way its been severely cropped (so that the formerly
horizontal image is now vertical), it not only forces consideration of
these two as a couple, it freezes the moment in time. In that way, it
implies that this moment very easily could have lasted for a good ten
or twenty seconds; that the people around are making a specific point
of not paying attention for that long: and that this image must somehow
have the kind of significant or enduring value that people tend to
immortalize in photo albums or picture frames.

Just to help out, the Drudge piece also pumps up the idea of a personal connection.   Of course, the title of the Drudge piece
that suggestion. The write-up does too, by leading with the picture,
then failing to mention it until the conclusion of an entire paragraph
alleging that Mr. Clinton has been having an ongoing affair with a
woman who lives near his home. That way, in reading that next single

"The book presents a photo of the former president ‘mouth-kissing’ an unidentified woman."

one has to actually think a second to realize the woman in this photo is likely not that neighbor.

Of course, when you shape the context and the presentation of a picture
for these highly partisan and manipulative ends, there is no way you
would want anyone to see such images in their larger — and more
innocuous — implications.

For example, you would never want anyone to know that this
image, rather than taking place in the darkened corner of a hotel
ballroom, for example, was taken outdoors, in broad daylight, in the
middle of 100,000 people, where the headliner of the event was someone
other than the former President.


You also wouldn’t want to mention that the former President,
supposedly always on the make, was in a weakened condition, having to
pull himself together to participate in this giant Kerry rally in
Philadelphia, and to get involved in the Presidential campaign in its
last week, following some slightly complicated heart surgery.

Given the subtle suggestions one photo can make regarding things like
tone, timing, setting and intention, you would probably prefer that
people also not see this color image that the BAG profiled back in
October (which I posted because I thought that was a cheap shot). 


When you look at this version, it must have been taken seconds before the shot above. 

One thing you can see here is just how many people are looking at
Clinton. That being the case — as well as the fact that at least two
newswire photographers were clustered nearby, trained on the
ex-President — it’s hard to imagine this episode involved much
lingering. You have to also question the overt sexuality of the moment,
considering the two girls in back — the one in the green and the one
in the white — hardly seem to register a reaction. (To be fair, of
course, it would help to have access to an "after shot" to inspect for
something like a raised an eyebrow.)

Besides raising questions about how private and intimate the
book’s picture is, this second shot (or more accurately, the two
pictures together) offer some much needed context concerning the time
element. Considering the rate at which the hand behind the woman’s hat
bends or the older man below is moving from left to right (even
factoring the slightly different orientations of the two cameras), you
start to realize that events here — supposedly fixed in posterity —
are actually taking place in instants.

Beyond the privacy and timing factors though, there is also the
question of what exactly is going on. Of course, the book caption (as
well as public knowledge of Clinton’s weakness for women) leaves him
unanimously convicted of making the move. Given that it’s the women’s
hand on Clinton, however, isn’t it possible she pecked him before he
knew what was going on? (Granted, it’s going to look the worse because
he’s not the kind to pull away.)

By the way, did you notice the women with the dark hair just to
the left of the "supporter" in the book’s picture who seems unaccounted
for in the color shot? (I’m assuming she is blocked out due to the
angle.) Examining the book’s photo, however, it appears that Clinton is
surrounded at close range by three women of likely similar age and even
sense of style (the third represented by the forehead and the
highlighted hair).

Really, the problem with this photo is that it pulls for one very
damning explanation implying a very specific set of motives. When you
combine the power of the immediate associations, the character weakness
in Clinton, and the overwhelmingly successful (and, obviously, ongoing)
morality campaign against both the Clintons, even the most fair minded
person is lead to conclude that Bubba is guilty here beyond a
reasonable doubt.

As a result, one would never stop to consider a more innocent
possibility (even if the evidence made it infinitely more credible).
For example, what if the woman was the instigator here, and she was
just putting on a show for her friends?

(Or, if you want to really let your mind wander a bit, what if she was
a nice conservative girl, and she was actually putting on a show for
the cameras?)

(Update 6/22/05 1:43pm PST:  I had no idea before posting this analysis that the photographer, Jay L. Clendenin
had renounced Ed Klein and Matt Drudge’s use of the photo in question
as salacious and completely out of context. For more on his comments,
as well as the continuous series of frames that give a true context to
this image, see the mediabistro piece
here.  Thanks to BAGreader Chrissy.)

(mage 1: The Truth About Hillary : What She Knew, When She Knew It,
and How Far She’ll Go to Become President by Edward Klein photos:
Alecsey Boldeskul/Zuma Press and Jay. L. Clendenin/Polaris. image 2:
Jay. L. Clendenin/Polaris in Ed Klein, op. cit.; image 3: Jay. L.
Clendenin/Polaris. June 20, 2005 in The Drudge Report; image 4:
unidentified source. DailyKos entry. 10/25/2004; image 5: Gerald Herbert/ AP)

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Michael Shaw
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