11. Slick Economist Cover Attacked

by Tony Quinn

Economist Obama v BP cover

Economist's Obama BP cover and original image from NY Times website

The Economist ran into trouble in the US over a cover about BP and US president Barack Obama during the oil slick crisis in July 2010. The editors cropped two people out of an image to leave Obama pondering with a rig in the background. There would have been no problem doing it graphically – and it was a very literal position to attack such digital manipulation – but the US president’s spin doctors seemed to want to get in and rubbish the article. The agenda became the cover and not the damage done to Obama.

The Economist has been able to do no wrong in the US for decades, but here it opened itself to criticism. The defence for the magazine was that removing distracting elements in the picture helped to create a greater truth. The Economist's deputy editor Emma Duncan explained that:

'I was editing the paper the week we ran the image of President Obama with the oil rig in the background. Yes, Charlotte Randolph was edited out of the image (Admiral Allen was removed by the crop). We removed her not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.'

'We often edit the photos we use on our covers, for one of two reasons. Sometimes — as with a cover we ran on March 27 on US health care, with Mr Obama with a bandage round his head — it’s an obvious joke. Sometimes — as with an image of President Chavez on May 15 on which we darkened the background, or with our “It’s time” cover ... endorsing Mr. Obama, from which the background was removed altogether — it is to bring out the central character. We don’t edit photos in order to mislead.'

'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. “The damage beyond the spill” referred to on the cover, and examined in the cover leader, was the damage not to Mr. Obama, but to business in America.'

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