According to Media Matters blog, the Washington Times yesterday featured a photograph of the Obama children, accompanied by a headline about a record number of Chicago area school children who have been murdered this year. It was easy to miss, as the paper quickly removed the image from its on-line edition. But the fact that it happened at all is troubling, especially as there seems to be no valid excuse for the image-headline/story juxtaposition:
The Obama children, of course, are not actually mentioned in the news story. But somebody at the WashTimes thought it made perfect sense to insert the image of the underage White House occupants into a story about murdered kids in Chicago.
And no, this was not an example of an unfortunate juxtaposition, where the the Obama girls photo was actually part of another, more innocuous story and because of a layout quirk simply appeared near the murdered-kids story. Instead, the Obama girls photo was specifically selected to accompany the article. (Source; via A Political Season)
Predictably, after getting caught bloggers called attention to it, the editor of the paper expressed “regret” that this happened and pointed a finger at a technological goof:
“The theme engine, through automation, grabbed a photo it thought was relevant, and attached it to the story,” [John] Solomon [editor of The Washington Times] says, acknowledging that the photo had gone up without a person seeing it. “There was no editorial decision to run it. As soon as it was brought to our attention, we pulled it down.” (Source)
From what I can make out, here are the response options for this kind of eff-up:
- Claim there is nothing wrong, and that some people are being overly sensitive or just trying to start trouble. (Especially effective if the names Al Sharpton and/or Jessee Jackson can be worked into the statement.)
- Claim that the article/image/statement was (a) a joke, (b) satire, or (c) art that people are just not funny, intelligent, or urbane enough to “get.”
- Express regret or sorrow if anyone was offended, making sure to state that offense was not the original intent. (If a racial incident, it helps to have this statement delivered by an employee of the racial group who was the target.)
- Flip the script by claiming victim status yourself, making sure to use the phrases “reverse racism,” “political correctness,” “race card,” and/or “left-wing media.”
- Similar to the above, claim that others have done/said similar things with little or no recourse. (Especially effective if rap/hip-hop can be worked in.)
- Blame it on one rogue individual who is a bad apple in a whole barrel of good Granny Smiths, and place her or him on leave until the dust-up blows over.
- Blame it on technology and vow to “look into” it.
In this case, the editor went with the technology scapegoat. (Better to claim passive incompetence than admit active malice, I suppose.) Very effective, because so many of us have had our own run-ins with technology and so are quick to feel the pain of others who have been bested by this beast.
But however it happened, the fact is: It happened. And that is a tragedy.
The tragedy it is twofold. First, it is an unsettling act of symbolic violence against President and Michelle Obama’s daughters. Second—and most importantly, the whole fiasco detracts from a very important—and still insufficiently-covered story—about the actual young victims of violent crimes and their families in one of our nation’s greatest cities. Most of these Chicago school children have been Black or Hispanic. None of them have become household names like any number of White kids who have also, tragically, been murdered.
So what technological mishap is responsible for this kind of lack of covereage? Who, or what, is to blame?