Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 4, 2015

For Crying Out Loud: The Visual Politics of the Vaccination Photo

Seth Mnookin – an MIT professor and author of  “The Panic Virus” who has been tweet-ranting at the media and the networks about their photo editing — has a very good point. Now that vaccination has become the latest political football in America’s ideological and culture war, the injection photo illustrating a news story really does carry some weight as these articles showcase the attempt to sow doubt, even panic over whether vaccinations are more hurt than help.

With these political stories practically oozing right now, Mnookin has plenty of news and news photography to feel pricked by.

To illustrate his concern, the two images leading this post, taken last June in Miami, are available for sale to news organizations on the Getty Images news site. (If you check below, they carry identical captions.)

With the GOP candidates stoking the flames (as we demonstrated yesterday), here’s how NBC just illustrated a story on the political debate:

And here’s another traumatic example, this embellishing a Politico story:

These examples, and many others, stand in contrast to this shot of a much more receptive child illustrating a vaccination debate story at RT.com:

What’s counter-intuitive about the stressful Politico example, by the way, is how the story specifically calls out vaccination deniers in the face of that West Coast measles outbreak. I should add, there are non-tramatic examples, no end, if you poke around in the stock, versus editorial photo offerings. Here are Getty’s iStock vaccination offerings, if you’re interested.

Yes, getting a shot can be scary and it certainly no lollipop. In the current atmosphere, however, just the whiff of distress, plus the scene of it, has its own political and editorial resonance. I imagine there are editors who are choosing the “distressed child” (or “distressed parent”) photo to echo the crying nay-sayers or the political hype.  Otherwise, what we’re seeing here is a variation on an everyday media reflex. In the face of strife (and the demand for eyeballs), a little suffering never hurts.

(photo 1, 2 & 3: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. caption: India Ampah holds her son, Keon Lockhart, 12 months old, as pediatrician Amanda Porro M.D. administers a measles vaccination during a visit to the Miami Children’s Hospital on June 02, 2014 in Miami, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced that in the United States they are seeing the most measles cases in 20 years as they warned clinicians, parents and others to watch for and get vaccinated against the potentially deadly virus. photo 4: Getty Images. photo 5: Rebecca Naden/Reuters.)

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