Hoyt notes the criticism:
[P]hoto editors looked at pictures to illustrate [Julia] Preston’s story and chose a color photo of another outspoken opponent of the immigration bill, Monique Thibodeaux, for the front page. For inside the paper, they picked a picture of two congressmen and two leaders of Grassfire.org, all in business suits, and a photo of [William] Murphy, smiling, with a gap where his tooth used to be, sitting beside an American flag on steps outside his house.Does Hoyt think the Times should be ashamed? No, you should be ashamed!
The blogosphere went wild. Two radio talk show hosts in Southern California reproduced the photo of Murphy on their Web site under a headline that said, “You are not a redneck!” They accused The Times of portraying anyone against the immigration bill as “riff-raff like this guy below.” The words “redneck” and “riff-raff” never appeared in Preston’s article in The Times.
At The Times, the reader call-in line was overwhelmed. And, at last count by my assistant, Michael McElroy, the public editor had received 1,267 e-mail messages, many with the theme, as one put it, that “I’m against the proposed Senate bill on immigration, and I have all of my teeth.” E-mailers called Murphy a “toothless freak” and worse — and these were the people who agreed with him about immigration.
“I think it is discriminatory to say all toothless people who represent controversial positions shouldn’t be used,” [said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor in charge of photography.] “This is a very big country that has a variety of styles and types.”...Yeah, how dare we assume?
I think all those people who have been complaining about Murphy’s photo owe him an apology. They assumed that, because he was missing a tooth, he was missing a brain. They also assumed that editors at The Times shared their prejudices and were attempting to ridicule opponents of the immigration bill.
What is the point of the public editor column if he's not going to do anything more than repeat whatever defense the editors serve up and blame the critics for daring to criticize? Go read the whole column, and you'll see the drivel I've edited out -- how Murphy is actually a decent human being with feelings. What tripe!
This doesn't address the criticism at all. Whether Murphy and Thibodaux are smart, competent individuals or not, the NYT deserves criticism for using them to obtain the images that would make the the opponents of the bill look like small-minded rustics. It looks -- to a lot of readers -- as though the Times used the photographs in order to stir up the prejudices and assumptions of the readers. When we call you on that, you respond that we're prejudiced and we're making assumptions and pretend you had nothing of the sort in mind. It's not prejudiced to notice when a newspaper is counting on prejudice.
The public editor ought to have gone into depth about how newspapers can manipulate opinion through the use of images and what the proper ethical standards are and analyzed whether the NYT violated those standards. Instead we get the photo editor's shallow defense and a lot of padding about how the guy in the photograph lost his eye and his tooth and how he has friends and family who love him anyway. Ridiculous.