We here at the Right Scoop were among the first to publish the story about the New York Times cropping out the Bush family from their front page coverage, and now they’ve responded! Our post went viral on Facebook and many other sites picked up the story, so the accompanying furor forced Margaret Sullivan the editor of the Times to post this:
Many readers wrote to me over the weekend, upset that a front-page photo of President Obama and his family leading a commemorative march in Selma, Alabama did not include former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. The Bushes were also in the front line of marchers.
Twitter was ablaze with criticism of The Times, many conservative news organizations wrote critical articles — and my email inbox overflowed. Some readers said they were canceling their Times subscriptions. Others were simply disappointed.
I asked The Times’s ranking photo editor, Michele McNally, about the photo this morning.
“There was no crop,” she said. “This was the photo as we received it.”
She sent me an email from the photographer, Doug Mills, who has been shooting White House and presidential photographs for many years.
Mr. Mills wrote to photo editors on Sunday to describe his process after The Times received an inquiry from Politico. Mr. Mills wrote that he never sent the photo desk a photograph that included the Bushes, and his reasons were technical ones. He wrote:
Just so you know … at the time the photo was taken, I was using a 70-200 long zoom lens. I also had a remote camera with a wide-angle lens attached to the side of the truck that took a photo at the just about the exact moment as the tighter one. As you can see, Bush was in the bright sunlight. I did not even send this frame because it’s very wide and super busy and Bush is super-overexposed because he was in the sun and Obama and the others are in the shade.
Ms. McNally showed me the photograph taken with the wide-angle lens that Mr. Mills sent to the photo desk on Sunday after the protests began.
“Technically, it’s a bad picture, and he didn’t even send it,” she said. President Bush “was totally overexposed,” she said. The photograph that was published is compositionally strong and “it has impact.”
The explanation and reasoning by Mr. Mills and Ms. McNally make sense to me.
While it would have been moving and worthwhile to see both presidents in a front-page photograph, I see no evidence of politics in the handling or presentation of the photo.
We also got some leftists whining that we didn’t have evidence that they physically cropped the Bushes out. But even if you give Maggie the benefit of the doubt, it’s clear that the photographer, the photographer editor, and the main editor just didn’t think having Bush in the picture was important enough to even try to get him in frame. Are we supposed to believe that the photographer only had ONE chance to snap a pic and then gave up? There were many other pictures taken that day of both presidents on the bridge, but the New York Times only cared about one.
Whether it was a physical cropping or an editorial one doesn’t matter. Imagery is powerful and the Times made sure that they memorialize Obama at Selma and exclude George Dubya Bush.