April 23rd, 2009
05:00 PM ET
5 years ago

Magazine takes heat for doctoring Obama pic

(CNN) – A magazine is taking heat for making undisclosed alterations of a photograph of President Obama in a bathing suit.

Washingtonian Magazine changed the color of the president's shorts and made a few other touch-ups, but media critic Howard Kurtz calls the small adjustments "unethical."

"While the alternations of this picture might seem to some people to be kind of minor, it is absolutely unethical," he said. "It is dishonest. It is not journalism. You cannot present a news photo, particularly of a president, but of anybody, and alter it through digital technology without being honest about it with readers."

Cathy Merrill Williams, the publisher of Washingtonian, disagreed, saying the publication was merely trying to convey a concept.

"When you're in the magazine business you're trying to get across a concept or an idea," she said. "Changing…the color of his shorts didn't change the overall image portrayed. It was President Obama in a bathing suit walking."

The White House is officially not commenting on the altered photo.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (283 Responses)
  1. EDR

    @Paul – "We should all be as fit as our President"

    So, we should all smoke and be former cocaine users?

    By the way, should we consider Obama one of those Americans who are responsible for the Mexican drug problem, since he is an admitted "former" user?

    April 23, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  2. D

    Cathy Merrill Williams, the publisher of Washingtonian, disagreed, saying the publication was "merely trying to convey a concept."

    And exactly what concept is that?
    What? that you think Americans blind and would have been able to figure out, he was wearing a black swim trunk? Why didn't you change the colour of his sunglasses? that's black as well!

    Anyway, I really don't see what the big deal is, wheather the picture is doctored or not. Everyon wants to cash in on the newest game in town and they aren't any different. With people in th public eye not able to have a moment of peace, is it any wonder we don't always get the best of the best to represent us?

    April 23, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  3. Jayson

    Cathy Merrill Williams said "When you're in the magazine business you're trying to get across a concept or an idea, changing…the color of his shorts didn't change the overall image portrayed. It was President Obama in a bathing suit walking."

    The problem with foisting a digitally manipulated image onto the reader and passing it off as factual, which is exactly what The Washingtonian has done, is that it is a deception. It is a lie. Applying Ms.Williams flawed and dangerous logic, one could alter the swimming trunks with images of little swastikas for example and say the addition of the swastikas doesn't change the overall image portrayed "..it was Obama in a bathing suit walking". But it isn't.

    Digitally manipulated photos are not an accurate portrayal of events. They allow the publisher to take snippets of information (a part of a photo for example) alter the remaining portion and then pass it off as factual. A journalist's job is to report the news, not invent it.

    Journalism is on a path to irrelevance when "concepts" replace truths and facts.

    April 23, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  4. Dimples

    Washingtonian publisher Carthy Merrill Williams, have you no shame? The President of the United States should not appear on the cover of your magazine in trunks. Such bad taste on your part. So this is how low you will go to sell magazines. Shame on you. Show some respect !

    April 23, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  5. TC

    Was he smoking a cigarette too?

    April 23, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  6. ron

    WOW! This is a HUGE story! Way to get to the bottom of the issues, CNN.

    April 23, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  7. Party of NO

    Rashid April 23rd, 2009 12:39 pm ET

    Yea I agree with Baze, I was also disappointed when I saw the photo. It made me think he's always vacationing, but it's the SAME photo from last summer

    You must have mistaken him with his predecessor.

    April 23, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  8. John Owen

    Men, particularly President's of the United States, wear modest black swimsuits of this baggy variety so as not to advertise the "package." Notice that in the re-colored red suit, air brushing has created a previously invisible thigh crease which directs the eye down and over to the package. It's not only sleazy journalism, its also cheap
    exploitation.

    April 23, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    @ Mark – USN Retired, who said "journalist ethisists "

    Oxymoron.

    April 23, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  10. huh

    The CIA doctored the Zapruder film to hide the 5 gunmen atop the grassy knolls at Dealey Plaza

    April 23, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  11. Kevin in Ohio

    I had heard about this last week. About time CNN gets to it. No surprise that the liberal media would do this.

    April 23, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  12. itbeme

    who cares what color his swim suit is......

    I'm betting most people aren't looking at the swim suit anyway!

    The Prez has a nice bod!

    April 23, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  13. Kreeana Lew

    And this is news, how? I blame Bush and Cheney – they had to be behind this.

    April 23, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  14. nameuser

    How many more decades to go until a (hopefully openly gay) black US President may wear a more progressive Euro-style Speedo?

    Impeach Bush. Fight global warming.

    April 23, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  15. JDR

    Why would CNN waste their time running this story? Isn't there a lot more going on in this world that is more news worthy?

    April 23, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  16. Sean

    Really? People are actually upset about this? Is there nothing legitimate out there to spend your time being upset about?

    April 23, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  17. kcl

    Our society is just crazy. These comments are too bizarre, both pro and con. Where is our focus these days? The picture should never have been put on the front page of magazine, where is an iota of common sense? I'm wondering if they even asked for permission or gave notice. This is sad.

    April 23, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  18. Kitchen Police

    Oh no! I didn't know presidents wore swimming trunks. It's so embarassing! Kind a like a nun in a bikini!

    April 23, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  19. C W

    Fortunately for us, I doubt the President has given this tasteless photo much thought. He has more important priorities, and has proven time and again that he is more than capable of staying on task.

    April 23, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  20. legalize weed

    so what, looks like they changed the color so the black background would not blend in with his black shorts. so friggin what.

    April 23, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  21. JA/TN

    enough, the photo is dated, why keep parading it, cover the real ills of America

    April 23, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  22. Bill

    So, this is an outrage? Changing the color of his short? Where was the outrage when magazines after magazines altered photos of McCain and Palin during the primary to make them look evil and unsuited to be in the White House? Mr. Kurtz, were you outraged then? Personally, I really don't care what a magazine do to sell papers. That's the nature of the business. However, as a member of the news media, you should be balanced and critical on both sides of the spectrum. Don't be selective and critical when it comes to the politician that you favor. You're better than this...or at least know better.

    April 23, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  23. Dev S

    when you said DOCTORED.. i thought u gave him a pirate patch and beard !!

    its common sense that black shorts wouldnt show up on black background

    April 23, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  24. Alex

    In the journalism field (which contrary toi what Fitz in Texas seems to believe also involves conservatives, this is called "flipping a pyramid". And people have lost jobs over this sort of thing. Even if the substance of the photo is not changed, to make any sort of physical change without acknowledging same beyond adjusting exposure, etc. is unethical. I have not seen this magazine, so if they acknowledge within the issue that the photo was changed in some way, that's better than not doing so. The fact the original photo appeared to be fine makes the decision to alter this one a bit more puzzling.

    April 23, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  25. RealityKing

    How ironically similar to the way the corrupt media help get Obama elected...

    April 23, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
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