May 31, 2006

Getting The Kerry Treatment


(click for larger view)

The NYT is at it again.  Following last week’s front page attack on Hillary Clinton, we have another prominent article designed to undermine and negatively stereotype a Democratic woman who stands to acquire more visibility and authority in Washington.

What are the trifling details yesterday’s front page article on Nancy Pelosi put into play to demonstrate the Congressperson’s deficiency?  Is it the fact she shells pistachio nuts with her teeth?  Or, that she couldn’t identify a curly fry?  (…Of course, we know how  representing San Francisco is already a damnable offense.)

The article primary attacks Pelosi’s on her speaking ability, using her elocution and lack of expository finesse as a vehicle to question her competence as well as her politics.  For example, it equates her — completely out of the blue — to Jesse Jackson (“She repeated Jesse Jackson-like alliterative sound bites in halting un-Jackson-like cadences”) simply for stumbling over an alliteration.  (Oh, and what about the comparison to Condi as a woman who speaks with substance?)

I leave the article to you to further appreciate the textual aspersions.  What primarily interests The BAG, however, is the way the accompanying photo drives home the article’s embedded, if not-so-subtle negative stereotypes.

If you break down the article’s assertions, it reinforces a number of key propositions or associations about Pelosi.  According to the textual picture, Pelosi is: lacking in gravitas; over-scripted; uncommanding; and a rich woman with a penchant for junk food who attracts speculation about her makeup, clothes and face.


Considering those terms, look at the file photo chosen out by The Times.  The image reinforces a number of these assumptions, particularly the ability to be taken seriously and to speak extemporaneously.  Also, note how the lack of connection to the person she’s addressing turns her into an “oddity” and an object for examination.


During the ’04 election, John Kerry was subject to many of the same pictorial devices.  Whereas Bush was constantly shown front and center, for example, pressing the flesh and making direct eye contact with John Q. Public, Kerry was often depicted at the edge of small groups consisting of body guards, reporters or aides.  Often, those shots would also show him “failing” to make interpersonal contact.  (Example 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Although the photo doesn’t reproduce as well here, Pelosi’s audience Pelosi is mostly either disparaging or negating.


The other significant attribute  of this shot is the presence of the wires and equipment. Pelosi is specifically captured “out of context,” photographed for print in a setting “dressed” for TV.  Deprived of the customary focus afforded a speaker giving a televised statement, the image also undermines Pelosi’s credibility and stature.

Of course, there’s nothing unusual about spinning.  Where the trouble occurs is when the press becomes overly susceptible to it.  Lately, one has to wonder why the MSM seems so hostile to the Dems, and especially threatened by the prospect of Democratic women coming to power.

(image: Alex Wong/Getty Images.  May 30, 2006.  New York Times. p. A15)

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Michael Shaw
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