Seeing Is Deceiving

Chatterbox has always been blindly non-visual. He always believed that one good ad slogan, posing as an ancient Chinese proverb, was worth a thousand pictures. Back in the mellow ‘60s, he would sometimes toke up, lie back on the floor, stare gape-jawed at the ceiling and murmur, “Oh, wow. Far out. Look at those colorful words.”

But even a myopic commentator like Chatterbox can’t help noticing that something mighty strange is going on with newspaper photographs of Bill Clinton. The unapologetically right-wing Washington Times seems to be going out of its way to capture our hormonally-challenged president intently staring at women’s cleavage. But the most mind-bending juxtaposition of images came during the presidential visit to Ireland. The front page of Saturday’s New York Times featured an oversized color shot of the Clintons in Dublin staring at each other like they were posing for a Valentine’s Day ad for Whitman’s Sampler. Not even Nancy Reagan could have matched Hillary’s adoring gaze. But that same day, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post ran an AP photo of the first family in Ireland that made them appear like they were sitting in divorce court. The president’s up-curled lower lip suggests stomach distress, while the unsmiling Hillary looks like she’s just been read out of the family will. Never subtle, the Post captioned its picture, “Looking Guilty.”

None of this is much different than the 1970s television footage of the athletic Jerry Ford tripping or bumping his head. Back then, the TV shots served as a heavy-handed visual metaphor for a stumbling presidency. Now the mysterious inner workings of the Clinton marriage are seemingly explained by the whims of photo editors. So if you want to predict where a newspaper is likely to stand on impeachment, forget the editorial page and go right to the pictures.

Walter Shapiro