- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

There are limits to Bush bashing.
In the past week, annoyed readers of the Chicago Tribune complained about the paper's decision to run an awkward photograph of President Bush across five columns of the front page Nov. 14.
The subject itself is not offensive: The photo simply shows Mr. Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan seated together at the White House prior to their Nov. 13 meeting on U.N. arms inspections in Iraq.
"But instead of the usual sober, serious pose, Bush was caught giving a thumbs-up signal and wearing a broad grin, part of an overall facial expression like that of a preadolescent boy when the teacher has just sat down on a whoopee cushion," wrote Don Wycliffe, the Tribune's ombudsman, in a column that ran Friday.
Mr. Wycliffe, whose title is "public editor," was responding to dozens of reader protests that arrived in the aftermath, calling the decision "mean spirited" and "nasty," among other things.
"I am neither a Democrat or Republican but I am an American and therefore am very offended and so very disappointed by your lack of discretion and sensitivity in choosing to print that picture," wrote local reader Olivia Pfenning.
"We don't understand why you would publish such a terribly unflattering photograph of our president on your front page," Doug Snyder and Elizabeth Conway offered.
"We're not always partisan, but we're always patriotic, and after all the effort that's been put into the U.N. efforts recently, we would think that your paper could pick from an abundance of potential photo-opportunities for a quality picture of Kofi Annan and President Bush," the two writers continued.
"It's laughable to think that you would not publish this photograph without underlying motives. It was wrong, and when you have a sweeping ability to do what is right with the photographic eye yet you do differently, it's a real turnoff. So why did you?" they concluded.
Mr. Wycliffe took the complaints seriously. They were not, he wrote, "the usual strident hyperpartisanship of those pro-Bush zealots who live to hate Clinton and find evidence of media bias. The zealots probably relished 'that picture' because it confirmed their conviction that the media are against them."
Zealots notwithstanding, Mr. Wycliffe, as public advocate, decided to pursue the question. How did the photograph end up on the front page in such mammoth proportions? He traced the decision to Bill Parker, the Tribune's associate managing editor for photography.
Mr. Parker said he felt the photo illustrated a "president on a roll" and that it captured his "happiness."
This is, of course, not the first time a picture has spoken a thousand partisan words. After Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole fell off a stage during a 1996 California campaign stop, some publications gleefully ran the photo of it.
"The Washington Post added insults to his minor injuries by choosing to blow the whole thing out of proportion with a page-one above-the-fold photo of Dole flat on his back, as if he was in a coffin. It was totally despicable," Clinton adviser James Carville wrote at the time. "And I mean that. Everyone I talked to at the White House felt the same way."
Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse, the international syndicate that supplied the disputed Bush photo last week, said the Chicago Tribune was the only American newspaper that ran it, along with three newspapers in Nigeria, Dubai and Canada.
"Ultimately, of course, this is not a matter of numbers but of judgement and taste," the Tribune's Mr. Wycliffe wrote. "And this is an instance, I believe, in which the readers have it right. Try as I may to read 'that picture' as Parker did, my gut tells me it amounted to a Page 1 editorial in which George W. Bush was being labeled an idiot and a clown, unsuited to the presidency."
"There may be a place for that in the newspaper, but it's not Page 1," he concluded.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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