As political pictures become more prominent and strategic (given such trends as the rise of stand-alone media slideshows and the use of Flickr as a “spin” tool), the photo caption become that much more crucial in providing context — or not.
As a classic example of “caption assassination,” check out this example from yesterday’s New York Daily News.
Not only do they take the White House’s own photo and use it against Obama, but the caption, especially when combined with the headline and the lede, while not lying, absolutely misleads on at least three of the five W’s.
The “what,” for example, is not ambiguous. Obama is delivering a birthday cupcake to the White House press room. The “when” is not ambiguous, either, and it’s not yesterday. Rather, the photo is a year old. And the “why” is not the occasion of a sad, loner President, isolated on his birthday, left to serve himself up a meager excuse for a proper birthday cake. The context, instead, is that Obama and reporter Helen Thomas share a birthday, and the President, in a thoughtful gesture and enjoying a good surprise, has decided to personally delivers the goods down the hall to the press room, the depressed, “this is what I deserve for a birthday?” expression simply illustrating the need to keep the cupcakes in balance and the candle lit.
That’s all the story there is to the photo, as opposed to the agenda of the Daily News, which is more intent on keeping Obama’s naysayers lit.