Capturing the wrong picture

Why bother with accuracy when you can get away with approximation?

Everyday Lies

This article was taken from the September issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.

My mobile telephone kindly selects new stories for me that it thinks might interest me. Recently it selected a story with the following headline: “An entire flight was held up because this pro-Trump activist refused to wear a face-covering.”

It was accompanied by a close-up photograph of a black man in one of those ridiculous red Make America Great Again baseball caps (not for nothing are such caps called IQ-reducers). He appeared to be standing at the front of the aisle in a passenger aircraft and indeed he was not wearing a face-mask. Close-ups tend to make anyone look aggressive.

Behind him, out of focus, there appeared to be passengers sitting in their seats. Only two of their faces could be made out with any clarity, and neither of them was wearing a mask.

At least two possibilities present themselves. First, this was an agency photograph that was not of the man mentioned in the headline, but was the nearest to the story that the publication was able to find. Second, he was not the only passenger who had refused to don a face-mask, but only one of at least three. The others were not wearing MAGA baseball caps.

Whatever the explanation, the photograph was either not consistent with the story, or did not illustrate it. The use of the photograph implied contempt for the readers, whom the editors must have supposed were incapable of noticing, or at least were unlikely to notice, the contradiction between the words and the picture. Perhaps they thought that people are so inclined to skim that only some faint relevance of a photograph to a story is necessary. And perhaps, in the statistical sense, they were right. Why bother with accuracy when you can get away with approximation? As we all know, the latter is easy, the former more difficult.

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