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April 23rd, 2009
10:26 AM ET

Photoshopping Obama

A magazine is taking heat for doctoring a photo of President Obama with his shirt off.
A magazine is taking heat for doctoring a photo of President Obama with his shirt off.

From Bob Ruff, CNN

When it comes to news photos, what’s real? And what isn’t?

That’s the question being asked once again today as the latest issue of the Washingtonian magazine hits the stands.

The cover photo shows a shirtless, buffed Barack Obama walking in red swim trunks against a black background. While it IS Barack Obama in the photo, much of the rest of it has been altered or “Photoshopped” to make the photo very different from the original one.

That original photo can be seen on the web here. It shows Obama vacationing last December as he comes out of a building wearing black trunks. But if you look at the Washingtonian cover, you’ll notice that, presto, the trunks are now red and the background has disappeared. It also appears as though his chest is glowing or shining in the Washingtonian version.

So, what’s the big deal?

Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post media columnist and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources”, says it’s a very big deal. “While the alternations of this picture might seem to some people to be kind of minor," he says, “it is absolutely unethical. You cannot present a news photo, particularly of a President, but of anybody, and alter it through digital technology without being honest about it with readers.”

Washingtonian’s publisher Cathy Merill Williams says she’s against “any kind of changes that you would make in a photo journalism picture.” But in this case “when you’re in the magazine business you’re trying to get across a concept or idea.” Williams says that changing “the color of his shorts...didn’t change the overall image portrayed. It was President Obama in a bathing suit walking.” Williams concept was that Washington has become an exciting and vibrant town now that Obama has moved in. The photo was presented on the cover to represent that idea.

Kurtz isn’t having any of it. “The picture of President Obama in his swim trunks, because we’ve seen the earlier (December) image, looks like a legitimate news photo taken by photographers that is real. And what the Washingtonian did was to make it unreal by playing with it, doctoring it in a way that I think is unethical.”

Filed under: Controversy
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Joy Wheaton

    I personally was disapproving when the original picture was shown in December of, at that time, President Elect Obama. I thought it was a little distasteful showcasing a president like that. He might have had a body that no one could make fun of but as an african american, I felt as though the media was taking liberties it may not have taken with another president. I may be mistaken but that was how I looked at it. There are several other ways this magazine could have gotten their point across. The President holds a very prestigious and respectable position and those personal moments close to indecencies, for lack of a better word, SHOULD NOT be publicly showcased in a magazine, and on the cover no less.

    May 4, 2009 at 6:49 pm |