July 20, 2005

First Impressions


According to the most recent NYT Magazine cover story, the Democrats have improved their ability to frame language to shape the political debate.

What I can’t understand, however, is why the “framing war” seems to be confined to words.  What about pictures?  In introducing Bush’s first Supreme Court nominee, why is it that John Roberts’ highly flattering D.C. Court of Appeals head shot ended up as suitable for Salon, Wonkette and Huffington as it was for Drudge and The NYPost

If you survey other images of Mr. Roberts (who the NYT and WAPO more discreetly depict in a business suit), you will appreciate just how impressive this shot is, and how seductive. In most newswire shots, for example, Roberts doesn’t look nearly this calm, personable, steadfast or ready to take his seat on the highest bench in the land. 


You may think I’m plumbing a molehill over this, but I’m just arguing the case for controlling the language — in this case, visual language — including the power of first impressions, and the “first mover advantage” in setting the terms of this man’s character.  (After all, without much of a record to interpret, it’s mostly the person we have to go by.)

If I was Karl Rove, for example, I might be pleased to see the top image in the MSM, but I would be thrilled to find it popping up throughout the liberal blogosphere.

(image 1: R. Strauss/A.P.  Undated.  Smithsonian/U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — via Huffington, Wonkette, Salon, Drudge and more….  image 2: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. Bush nomination announcement. July 19, 2005 in YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
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