Tuesday’s biggest news? Hillary Clinton officially received the Democratic Party’s nomination for president during the second day of the party’s convention.
The following newspapers illustrated that story with a headline along the lines of “Clinton Makes History” but a photo of Bill Clinton:
- Houston Chronicle
- Chicago Tribune
- San Antonio Express-News
- Seattle Times
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Washington Post
- Wall Street Journal – early edition
Meanwhile, these papers illustrated the story with either a photo of Hillary Clinton or a crowd shot of the audience, often with women in focus:
- Wall Street Journal – late edition (shot of the video screen with HRC’s face on it)
- New York Times (shot of two Black women cheering)
- Austin American-Statesman (small file headshot of Hillary Clinton, giant photo of Cap Metro bus)
- Fort Worth Star Telegram (group of women cheering)
- Dallas Morning News (stage with video screen featuring Hillary Clinton)
The internets, as Paul Wall once observed, are going nuts, and your reaction almost definitely depends upon your own experience going through the world.
As I was fielding a message from one friend asking me if I had called the Houston Chronicle to complain, I got a text from another reporting she had just called to complain, been on hold for too long, and emailed her complaint instead.
I’d just seen the photo, and it reminded me viscerally of the time a law school classmate yanked my arm down when I raised it to ask a question, explaining that I should not raise my hand lest he be called on. Funny, I’d always assumed that if I raised my hand, I’d be the one called on. When I said so to him, he stared at me as if I had sprouted antennae.
Newspapers and journalists have offered explanations for the front page dissonance with varying levels of defensiveness.
The Houston Chronicle tweeted out a link:
Why Bill Clinton, not Hillary, appears on front pages https://t.co/VpyqyJvszj
— Houston Chronicle (@HoustonChron) July 27, 2016
That link highlighted an online explainer with a San Antonio Express-News reporter’s byline:
But on Wednesday morning, it was Bill, not Hillary, who was splashed across newspapers front pages. People took to Twitter expressing their frustration that even if a woman can get the nomination of a major political party, she couldn’t be on the front page.
However, most critics — some claiming sexism was a factor — overlooked that the timing of the speech surpassed print deadlines for newspapers, one of two main reasons for the choice of photos.
And, as San Antonio Express-News photo editors, who also ran a lead image of Bill Clinton — with a secondary image of Hillary — explained, the Democratic nominee appeared on screen, rather than in person (as is tradition), which played into the decision.
A photo of a candidate on a screen, rather than the night’s keynote speaker who rallied the crowd, doesn’t accurately capture the moment, they said, adding that illustrating the second-night convention coverage with a keynote rather than the nominee is nothing new.
Hillary Clinton will be prominently featured on Friday’s front page, after she appears in person to speak Thursday night, the editors said.
Just some claiming sexism was a factor? I might have framed that a bit differently …
Responding to a Buzzfeed staffer calling the photo choice sexism, one Wall Street Journal writer replied on Twitter:
— Byron Tau (@ByronTau) July 27, 2016
The “simple woman” in his tweet was implied.
To summarize, the explanations for why Hillary’s photo was not selected include:
- She wasn’t there in person, and a shot of the video wouldn’t capture the emotion in the room.
- Newspapers don’t use stock photos.
- Her video appearance was simply too late for papers to use.
- Different people pick headlines than write photos.
- When Trump was nominated, we showed a photo of his family, not of him.
- When Obama was nominated, we showed a crowd shot, not a photo of him.
- We’ll use a photo of her when we report Friday on her Thursday speech.
The one explanation that rings particularly hollow for me, even though logically I understand it, is that Clinton wasn’t present and therefore wasn’t shown.
Invisibility is pretty much the reason people are upset.
For too long, women literally have not been there, not been present, when it comes to being serious contenders for the presidency of the United States. We are all painfully aware of that fact. It is the reason this moment is historic.
There are responses to all of those defenses, of course, but that’s the way subtle sexism plays out. If you isolate one woman’s complaint, you can explain it away. And if you can blame it on a dispassionate “way it has always been,” even better.
Rather than explain away why so many women were wrong to interpret this photo selection as sexist, or point to this simply being how it is done, media professionals might consider an alternate route.
Apologize—and not an “if you were offended” apology, but a sincere and contrite one. Pause. Reflect. Discuss. And pledge to do better next time while developing measures to prevent such missteps.
One of many people who raised the issue with the Houston Chronicle received this response:
Thank you for sharing your concerns about the photo on today’s Houston Chronicle. I can understand why you felt that there was a visual disconnect. The front page package of stories, headlines, and photos was intended to represent the night of the convention. Last night, the highlights included the roll call that made Hillary Clinton’s nomination official, along with that evening’s speeches. Hillary was not at the convention, though she appeared briefly on video. As I understand it, she is just now arriving in Philadelphia. However, former president Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker last night, and that’s why his photo is dominant today, although in hindsight, I do wish our photo editors had reconfigured the page to include a photo of Hillary as well. For context, the headline was written by one team and the photo selected by another and I don’t think they stopped to consider the combined effect. You can rest assured, there will be a big bold page 1 photo of Hillary Clinton on Friday after she has given her acceptance speech.
I’ll rest assured that the candidate will be featured on Friday. But I’ll not rest until matters like this are considered with foresight, rather than hindsight.