The Economist Alters News Photo for Cover Layout

An editor at The Economist  insists the decision to Photoshop a news photo for its June 19 cover was made for the sake of design, not politics. A version of the same photo was also used to illustrate an opinion piece critical of President Obama for being too harsh on BP.  

Next to the headline “Obama vs BP: The Damage Beyond the Spill,” The Economist used a photo showing Obama alone on a Louisiana beach. The original photo, taken by Larry Downing of Reuters, shows that the President was standing next to a local representative, Charlotte Randolph, who was Photoshopped out of the photo. Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard was cropped out of the photo. 

In the Photoshopped photo,  Obama appears to be looking down, as if thoughtful or discouraged. The unaltered photo shows he was listening to Randolph, who is about a foot shorter than Obama.  
Emma Duncan, deputy editor at The Economist, told The New York Times yesterday that she wanted Randolph airbrushed from the photo "not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers."

She wrote in an email, "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."

If the Photoshopped cover doesn't make a political point, the cover story certainly does. Inside the issue, The Economist ran a tightly cropped version of Downing's photo over an opinion piece that describes   "the President’s swipes at" BP as "anti-business."  As The Columbia Journalism Review noted in its critique of this "off the deep end" essay, The Economist writes the following under the subhead “Vladimir Obama": 

“If he sees any impropriety in politicians ordering executives about, upstaging the courts and threatening confiscation, he has not said so. The collapse in BP’s share price suggests that he has convinced the markets that he is an American version of Vladimir Putin, willing to harry firms into doing his bidding.”

The opinion piece also says attempts by Obama, Congress and the Administration to get BP to pay for the oil spill clean up are xenophobic: BP is a British company, as is The Economist.  

The essay, accompanied by a horizontal version of the Photoshopped cover shot, can be found here. 

10 Responses to “The Economist Alters News Photo for Cover Layout”

  1. David Hobby Says:

    Hey, Holly-
    Last link is dead, FWIW. Looks like removed?
    And, just wow. I cannot believe the normally great Economist did that. 1990 just called — they’d like their ethical breach back, please.

  2. David Hobby Says:

    Nope, just a coding error – you got an extra “http://” in there. -DH

  3. John McD. Says:

    I’ll bet Larry Downing is none too pleased to have his image misused in this way. He’s a longtime White House shooter, ex-Newsweek and very respected. Where’s the reaction from Reuters? This surely must be against the terms of their licensing agreement with clients.

  4. PDN Editor Says:

    Thanks, David, the link should be fixed now. I added a shout-out to the folks at The Columbia Journalism Review who first fact checked the text of The Economist’s cover essay (though not the photo that accompanied it).

  5. Rachel Fus Says:

    I’m confused. How do we know that the Prez is looking down because he is listening to Randolph??? How do we know he is not looking down at the debris on the beach or because he really is a little depressed after all this destruction? Did someone ask him?
    I don’t like how they Photoshopped the picture but I don’t like making inferences about what people are doing in a photo either.

  6. Brian Carey Says:

    This is one way for a magazine to damage their credibility for sure!

  7. Albert Says:

    John McD, Reuters’ reactions would be “crap, not again!” See:

  8. Albert Says:

    John McD, Reuters’ reaction would be “crap, not again!”
    See :

  9. d Says:

    The Economist lost it’s credibility when they very blatantly endorsed Barack Obama with the reason “let’s just give it a shot” article without showing all sides of the story.

  10. Albert L Says:

    This speaks miles about the integrity of the person who decided to make this move and physically change what the photograph was.
    They seem to justify design decisions over the integrity and reputation of The Economist.
    It is reprehensible that a major publication doesn’t mind this type of behavior.