Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
July 1, 2015

Why it's Fair Game for Getty to Tweak Christie as Gay (and for AP to Depict Ted Cruz with a Gun to his Head)

Christie announcement embrace 1
The Guardian ran this photo in a column titled: The only person who really loves Chris Christie … is Chris Christie.

Christie announcement embrace 2

The Wall Street Journal ran this photo in its June 30th “Photos of the Day” gallery.

So the AP blinked two weeks ago and pulled photos of Ted Cruz standing in of a gun poster after conservative websites raised hell about about.  (To be specific, the photos were pulled from their archive and ordering page.) At any other time, I would have agreed that the photos were gratuitous. Given how much news photos respond to the immediate political environment, however, it’s necessary to consider their impact and narrative in context.  That said, there are certain facts to consider:

• The photo appeared the same week a racist kid used a handgun in the Charleston’s AME church massacre.

• One of the shocking realizations widely discussed in the aftermath of the shooting was that gun control (as a political action item, and even a viable topic of debate) is off the table.

• If we’re talking about what’s gratuitous, the photos were captured while Cruz was doing a photo op at a “Celebrate the 2nd Amendment” event at a sports shooting facility in Johnston, Iowa. Cruz being Cruz, the key passage of this HuffPost story about the candidate joking about gun control in the aftermath of Charleston read:

“You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I’m pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas — hitting what you aim at,” Cruz said at a town hall meeting Friday in Red Oak.

• In the article, Cruz turned the whole thing around, accusing the Dems for exploiting the shootings “as an excuse to take away Second Amendment rights.”

• Also circulating as a conservative talking point after the AME massacre was the suggestion that this horror might never have happened if the church members had also been armed.

As stated above, the creation of news photos and editorial decisions about what to put on the wire does not take place in a vacuum. To the extent that Breitbart and other outlets got exercised seeing a picture that, to their eyes, suggested a handgun about to blow Ted Cruz’s head off, the photo could as much be seen as the media objectifying the latent or suppressed response of a government and a public that has not only capitulated to the NRA, but stands helpless in the face of another easily acquired handgun used in still another horrific and nationally-shattering hate crime.

But that’s not the imagery leading this post, is it? No, the photos I posted were circulated by Getty image from Chris Christie’s presidential campaign launch yesterday. And the photos are certainly cheap shots, freezing instants in time to intimate that Christie is about to exchange a smooch on the lips with a male fan. Also, it’s not like I haven’t weighed in on the exact same thing before. I took issue with the tactic in 2005 when author, Ed Klein, tried to smear Bill Clinton this way. I took issue with it again in 2012 based on a Getty photo of David Boies and Ted Olson celebrating a victory in the battle against California’s Prop 8.

In yesterday’s case, however, I think context plays as significant a role as the photo of the gun to Ted Cruz’s head does. In this instance, Christie’s announcement took place literally days after the Supreme Court formally approved gay marriage in the United States for all time. In spite of that fact and the additional knowledge that a majority of the country is in support, the GOP presidential candidates pretend this milestone never took place. Thus, a photo that could be construed as Christie entertaining a gay kiss is a commentary – and I would say in this case, a legitimate one – on his, and the party’s not sexual, but political sublimation and denial.

(Updated 6/2/15 for clarity/grammar)

(photo 1 & 2: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images: caption 1: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie greets supporters after announcing his bid for the US presidency at Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey on 30 June 2015. caption 2: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie kisses a supporter after announcing his bid for the US presidency at Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey June 30, 2015. Christie launched his White House campaign at his high school alma mater, becoming the 14th Republican to officially jump into a crowded GOP field more than 17 months before the 2016 presidential election.)

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