A little teaser headline atop one of the “news” magazines that appear on people’s laptops shows an obviously contented Hillary Clinton. The text dubs that action of the presidential candidate as “laughing hysterically.”
All right. Now we have the essential elements that draw our attention, as the text goes on to explain — and try to make yet another connection: There’s implicit violence.
Here’s what happened: In a Q-and-A session, Hillary Clinton fielded a concern from a member of a small audience. The questioner, a middle-aged man, complained that after earning $1,000 for each of five jobs, he was terminated. He went on at length, lamenting his sudden unemployment and concluded with, “I feel like strangling Carly Fiorina,” a comment that generated scattered bits of nervous laughter among the 30-some members in that audience. The disgruntled member of the audience didn’t spell out his connection to Fiorina, a GOP aspirant for the U.S. Presidency and CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Clinton herself let out a chuckle (if the coverage is by Fox News, the chuckle becomes a cackle, the cackle becomes a howl, and the howl becomes a paroxysm, which disqualifies her from seeking public office — ever). But I have no doubt that any facial expression she would make would be construed by Townhall Daily as an endorsement of what the now-unemployed man was saying. Strangle away.
People laugh, they smile, they show emotion. But there’s even a question as to whether “laughing hysterically” was related to the man’s lament. A separate, isolated photo of Clinton shows her enjoying a bit of gaiety, but the message the footage obviously hopes to convey is that the former First Lady cracked up at the thought of violence directed at Carly Fiorina.
In an accompanying bit of online posting, the cameraperson must have gone through miles of footage to show the one expression that indicates a smirk from Clinton as a carte blanche for the man’s desire to strangle Fiorina. I believe people in the photo-video business look precisely for the facial expression that comes closest to a smirk, sneer, cackle or even show of boredom.
In the ‘60s, Highlands University hosted a speaker named George Lincoln Rockwell, then the head of the American Nazi Party. He spoke in a packed Sala de Madrid. Early in his speech, he told about how the press was determined to show him in a bad light. As he told about speeches he’d delivered across the country, he went through several facial expressions: a pout, a grimace, a smile, a chuckle, and a glare — he ran the gamut. He was demonstrating how photographers would purposely work on catching an expression that would show Rockwell with the most unflattering, satanic expression.
And as he presented his final facial manipulation, a camera flash went off.
And that bit of photographic timing demonstrated precisely what Rockwell had been talking about: photographers become quite selective in presenting Rockwell in the worst possible light. The full message Rockwell delivered received only sparse approval from the apprehensive audience that included Hispanics, blacks, Jews and Native Americans. Rockwell traveled with a bodyguard. He received many jeers for his remarks and said his life had been threatened numerous times.
Possibly the Optic photographer at the time failed to capture the right expression to use on the front page the next day, as Rockwell’s visage never appeared in the newspaper.
Incidentally, only about a year after delivering his hate speech at Highlands, Rockwell was assassinated, on Aug. 25, 1967, while leaving the Econowash laundromat at the Dominion Hills Shopping Center in Arlington, Va.
The Townhall Daily headlines that imply Hillary Clinton’s role as a spare-time axe murderess — make no mistake — are designed precisely to connote callousness and even a penchant for violence on the part of the Democratic front-runner for the presidency.
Do these instances of photographic cherry picking of faces actually help determine how voters will react at election time?
It’s not only right-wing outlets that try to sensationalize the news. Left-leaning groups also occasionally shoot anti-GOP darts at members of the Republican party.
The Townhall Daily, which arrives in millions of homes via computer, for example, led off a recent Wednesday’s stories with some of the following headlines: “Bernie Sanders, Lover of Genocidal Tyrants, is Anything But Cute”; “Union: Obama Threw Workers ‘Under the Bus’ in Keystone XL Decision”; “Ben Carson’s Violent Childhood Called into Question as Classmates Don’t Remember”; “Clinton Blatantly Deceives Democrats in Gun Control Fundraising Letter”; “My Trump Problem”; and “Clinton Panders to Families of Violent Criminals Ahead of Dem Debate.”
The final Townhall Daily headline refers to the slayings of Trayvon Martin and Martin Brown who, in isolated confrontations with police, died of gunshot wounds. Predictably, the Townhall Daily writer argued that the police who fired the fatal shots did so “because they feared for their lives” and “acted in self-defense.”
A comprehensive study conducted by graduate students at the University of Missouri School of Journalism around 2012 concluded — possibly to nobody’s surprise — that obviously slanted coverage of crime or other forms of law-breaking makes a bigger impression on people who are pre-disposed to feeling a certain way.
Accordingly, haters of Hillary are more likely to see the presidential candidate as one whose callousness would actually encourage violence against Carly Fiorina. And conversely, voters loyal to Hillary would see the photo of Hillary as one in which she simply smiles.
Objectivity? Does it even exist anymore?