Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 21, 2016

Let the Supreme Court Battle Begin. (With Apologies to Ringling Bros.)

Curt A. Levey, executive director of FreedomWorks Foundation, prepared for a television interview on MSNBC in Washington about President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last week. T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

My focus today is on the brewing SCOTUS nomination battle. More specifically, I’m interested in which way the pictures might be leaning. Take this amusing pic leading off the NYT article this morning, “First Step in Conservatives’ Supreme Court Fight: Agreeing on a Message.” Given how much is riding on the outcome of the battle (or, the lack of one), why did this photo make me laugh out loud?

The article itself has to do with the conservative lobby rallying its forces. If the anti-Garland groups are rolling in cash, we’re told, they are still working out a message. Facts aside, the article is almost boastful about what is otherwise a minor visual nuance. It notes how the Times was given visual access to the offices of the far-right Freedom Works Foundation, located just down the street from Capitol Hill. Based on the pictures, it looks like they were also given permission to shadow the Executive Director.

Colby Bledsoe, left, campaign manager for FreedomWorks for America, with Jason Pye, director of communications of FreedomWorks, at the FreedomWorks offices on Capitol Hill on Thursday. T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The result? The one office pic in the write-up showcases the millennial staff, and also a Barry Goldwater campaign poster. Beyond the parallels one could draw to the Trump campaign, the highlighting of the poster could easily be seen as a commentary on the extreme, even quixotic nature of the “stop Garland” effort. (The third photo in the article captures the chief counsel of another far-right lobbying group, Judicial Crisis Network, with a couple PR advisers. That picture seems tinged as well, also the PR guy with the sunglasses also looks a little comical.)

But the choice photo is the one above — that of of FW’s executive director, Curt Levey, preparing for a TV interview. The caption states it was taken sometime last week. The tone of the photo is overwhelmingly determined by the make-up person. In that green shirt with white polkadots and the green hair (and who’s going to make the connection that last Thursday was St. Paddy’s Day?), the picture has a circus troupe vibe. (And beyond, isn’t the scaffolded Capitol Building functioning more like a big top these days?) In any case, it’s an odd photo choice to drive this story. …Unless the intent was to suggest the outlandish nature of the right wing effort. Because as soon as I saw it, I could imagine Levey, after his eyebrows were painted, being fitted with a round red nose.

(photos: T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times. caption 1: Curt A. Levey, executive director of FreedomWorks Foundation, prepared for a television interview on MSNBC in Washington about President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last week. caption 2: Colby Bledsoe, left, campaign manager for FreedomWorks for America, with Jason Pye, director of communications of FreedomWorks, at the FreedomWorks offices on Capitol Hill on Thursday.)

 

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