July 27, 2016

Even on an historic night for both, Hillary and Bill Clinton could not avoid a media controversy not of their own making.

For the first time, a woman was nominated to be a major party presidential nominee. For the first time, too, a former president was speaking on behalf of his spouse at a convention.

By and large, it would appear a simple proposition: Lead with news of her nomination and some photo of her if one were available. But that was complicated by both Bill’s notable speech and, in particular, its length, which pushed her brief appearance by satellite to slightly later than planned, just after 11 p.m. Eastern time.

So for the likes of The Wall Street Journal, it meant using a photo of Bill for their first edition of the print paper. Hillary had not yet appeared, and the paper wanted a live photo from the event. They switched out the shot of Bill for one of her in its later edition, with that later version the one actually arriving in Philadelphia:

For the likes of The New York Times, the decision was to use a shot from the floor of the convention with joyous Clinton supporters and a placard, “Girl Power,” after she was officially made the nominee:

It would all seem pretty straightforward. But little is, especially on social media, and there was kvetching from some quarters over front-page photos featuring Bill rather than Hillary:

Gerald Seib, The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief, had no clue of any kerfuffle when I contacted him. It was the same with several other high-ranking editors at other major papers (one of whom actually used separate photos of both Hillary and Bill).

The Washington Post went with a photo of Bill Clinton because “there was no good photo opportunity,” Washington Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti Kelly said in an email to Poynter.

“Secretary Clinton was on a live video very late in the evening, making for a poor photograph,” she said. “Bill Clinton’s speech was the big moment, and another big moment was when Bernie Sanders moved that she be given the nomination by acclamation. So we carried those two photographs.”

Nevertheless, Vox cited a Fusion report that in Vox’s view “noticed something important about today’s newspapers,” namely not in some cases using photos of Hillary.

It then qualified that sense of gravity by noting, “Of course it’s true that Hillary Clinton only addressed the DNC briefly through a video Tuesday night. And, having worked in a number of newsrooms, my guess is the editors at these papers wanted to grab a newsy photo from something that happened at the Democratic National Convention last night. That newsy photo ended up, in a lot of cases, to be of Bill Clinton.”

Yes, that surely was the case given the hour. And a look at dozens of other papers on the Newseum’s site underscored somewhat divergent decision-making. Many used a Hillary photo — even if in some cases it was a file photo or, like the Staten Island, New York Advance, a shot from her Saturday appearance in Florida with running mate Sen. Tim Kaine. Like The Times, some used photos of supporters after she went over the top in the roll call vote.

And, yes, some used a shot from the rambling, affectionate speech of her husband who, even when a warm-up act, can steal a show.

The Washington Post noted the chagrin of some with papers, like The Post, that didn’t go with a photo of Hillary.

A majority of the unhappy tweets that I came upon were from women, with a fair number of tweets defending the decision-making coming from men. Several of the latter noted how The Journal had actually used shots of the Trump children on page 1, not their dad, a week earlier when he was nominated at the Republican National Convention.

Is it possible that a gender divide was also in evidence in assessing the p. 1 photos? Perhaps where you stand depends on where you sit — which is all so typical when it comes to the Clintons, America’s most famous and frustrating political couple.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

More News

Back to News