Economist doctors Obama cover image

A controversy has spring up in the wake of an Economist cover photo of President Obama that shows him
alone and forlorn on a BP oil spill beach with the cover lines “Obama v BP” and “The damage beyond the spill.”
The Economist cover before and after
The June 19 cover showed Obama standing alone, but we wasn’t actually alone. The original photo, shot by Reuters photographer Larry Downing, was altered to remove the people he was standing with: Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Charlotte Randolph, a local parish president.

The New York Times, which provided the before and after shots above, called it “the ideal metaphor for a politically troubled president.” But, the paper continues,

“When it comes to its own photographers, Reuters has stringent standards regarding photo editing. “Reuters has a strict policy against modifying, removing, adding to or altering any of its photographs without first obtaining the permission of Reuters and, where necessary, the third parties referred to,” Thomson Reuters said in a statement on Sunday.”

The Economist responded to the NYT:

“Emma Duncan, deputy editor of The Economist, told us this about the cover in an e-mail message on Monday:

“I was editing the paper the week we ran the image of President Obama with the oil rig in the background. Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.

“We often edit the photos we use on our covers, for one of two reasons. Sometimes — as with a cover we ran on March 27 on U.S. health care, with Mr. Obama with a bandage round his head — it’s an obvious joke. Sometimes — as with an image of President Chavez on May 15 on which we darkened the background, or with our “It’s time” cover endorsing Mr. Obama, from which the background was removed altogether — it is to bring out the central character. We don’t edit photos in order to mislead.

“I asked for Ms. Randolph to be removed because I wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America.”

In a Guardian blog, Roy Greenslade writes:

“Well, it’s an interesting explanation, and I respect Duncan’s integrity. But the main headline said “Obama v BP”, so am I alone in finding her answer just a little disingenuous?”