April 4, 1994, Time magazine chose to run this cover during the investigation of President Clinton’s Whitewater investment scandal and bankruptcy of Madison Guaranty Savings.
The photograph was real and not doctored. The caption was current and accurate. However, the two don’t go together. The context was fake. The photograph simply showed the President with his Senior Advisor, George Stephanopoulos during a routine White House meeting a year earlier.
Time justified their decision by saying they wanted to show “the close working relationship between these two men. We chose it…to convey a mood”.
Is this fake news? A routine photo of the President deep in thought, apparently stressed about something, and the somber look on Mr. Stephanopolous’ face (not to mention the glare apparently at the photographer), paired with a damming caption.
This wasn’t the birth of deception in photography, or news, for that matter. Deception has paralleled photography since it was invented in the mid-1800s. Yet we continued to ascribe truth and reality to photographs unequivocably, despite sporadic setbacks like these, up until the digital revolution reversed the credo. Today we view practically all photos with the underlying assumption that something has always been modified from the original, even if it’s just to improve saturation.
So do you think TIME was justified? Is the “mood” just as real, or even more important, to convey than the facts of the particular case?
Should our expectation of reality from news sources like TIME, CNN, BBC, etc. hold them to different standards than other magazines or media? Or, put a different way, would this cover be more acceptable on magazines devoted to more subjective, impressionistic themes such as Vanity Fair, New Yorker or the tabloids?