April 23rd, 2009
05:00 PM ET
14 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 (284 Responses)
  1. Becky

    And McCain probably wears ten layers of make-up. You could call make-up dishonest.

    April 23, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  2. :( geez

    Um...I don't think magazines follow the rules of journalism...if there are even rules. Magazine covers are ALWAYS doctored. Sorry.

    April 23, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  3. Joanna

    Still makes me want to puke ... red or black shorts ... makes no difference!

    April 23, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. mypitts2

    Too many people in America defend doing wrong rather than admitting they were wrong, correcting the problem as best as possible and moving on.

    We see that in major ways, for instance, with the defense of torture by the former vice president et al.

    Cathy Merrill Williams is doing the same thing on a relatively minor issue. If she knows anything about journalism, which is about telling the truth, she knows it is wrong to alter a photo and not tell the readers. You are essentially selling a lie as the truth. A simple note to readers would have kept this in the realm of ethical.

    Yet, she defends doing wrong. We will not advance as a society until more people in leadership positions stop doing this.

    April 23, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  5. Mississippi Mike

    What else did they change? We already know that the media can't stop drooling over him, how far would they go to make him look stunning in a swimsuit? Who knows.

    April 23, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  6. Glennis

    Tacky, tasteless and completely undignified. Not impressed.

    April 23, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. sketchie

    Who cares about this? lets get the economy back on tracK!

    April 23, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  8. gary

    Why change the color of his suit...GIVE HIM 6 PACK ABS!

    Actually it's sort of symbolic of the image marketing that goes into politicians.

    April 23, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  9. Gonzo

    This headline should read "Mag takes heat from CNN for doctoring Obama pic." NO ONE CARES CNN! When will you get back to reporting real news? Man, between your "US Weekly/Larry King" interview of Levi Johnson and Perez Hilton the night before- you are bound to recover in the ratings.

    It's time to get back to real news- maybe about how dire the situation in Sri Lanka is with the Tamil Tigers- or that Russia is now refusing to release unemployment numbers because of uprisings- or perhaps news about the rising crime rates in Chicago. I don't think you yield much respect when you make up your own stories (Obama Pic is upsetting people) or covering just trashy stuff (where Levi and Bristol had sex) or how hypocritical Perez Hilton.

    April 23, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  10. Mike in Ca.

    He definitly has darker skin in the altered photo. The argument for the red swimming trunk makes no sense, since the background didn't need to be black.

    April 23, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  11. JamesJ

    Whats the big deal? The media has "touched up" everything about this guy

    April 23, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  12. John

    All pictures that are going to be in a magazine are photoshopped one way or another.

    April 23, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  13. Cyrus

    Get a life people! Dow is still below 8,000!

    April 23, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  14. genius at work

    if you notice what the article is about, you'd understand why the shorts were changed. (it has nothing to do with the background). sure some magazines present material that is news worthy, but a majority of there articles are opinion pieces that are stereotypes with no legitimate sources or references to quote. this particular article may have referenced a poll taken on who was hot or not, and obama happened to be number two. in no way is this reporting the news, and should not be held to the standards of journalistic integrity. (unless you believe everything you read in the tabloids, then sure hold them to such standards)

    April 23, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  15. C

    Its not just the shorts, they gave him a tan. And its a picture from last year so clearly the magazine was just trying to drum up some excitement in a slow news week.

    April 23, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  16. Samantha

    This is such a non issue. The same people who has commented that he doesn't know what he's doing why don't you go find and island and make bush the president and Cheney the vice and see how little time it will take you to starve to death. You still havent gottent he memo if you not a part of the club the Bush Administration don't care if you live or die. Just ask the 9th ward.

    April 23, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  17. Linda B., Ga.

    Everybody needs to GET A LIFE and let our President BE our President....They need to cut out all the CRAP!

    April 23, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  18. Marissa


    This is the man we call president , what is wrong with that? He had a picture taken a year ago snapped on the beach. he wasnt even president then. I am very proud of Obama and feel glad he appears in good physical shape !. This is a stressful job

    April 23, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  19. ben

    Really? As I started reading the story I found myself in agreement that any kind of alteration of a news photo is unethical. Then, I saw the photo in question. It is a cover photo, which puts it in a somewhat unique catagory – this cover, like many, is styalized. The change in the color of the President Obama's shorts is simply due to the fact that the cover was deigned with a black backround and black shorts would have just blended in. I am all for strict acountability of the press but this is dumb.

    April 23, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  20. The Broker.

    You also do the same thing. It takes just one wrong manipulation your keyboard.

    April 23, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  21. el-lobito

    CNN – we still need that "sh1t nobody cares about" category to catch this stuff that keeps getting placed on the political ticker page...

    April 23, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |

    They Should Be Ashamed of doing that Photo President Obama is no Celebrity he is the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES But he did look Good! hahahah

    April 23, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  23. D Smith

    This is the sorry state of "journalism" in our present day! There is so much tabloid, flat out lying and half-truths out there masked under the journalistic label. I don't believe anything I read and only half of what I see anymore. Not to mention putting a topless President on the cover is DISGUSTING. It shows how we expect everyone to look airbrushed and perfect, thanks to Hugh Hefner, the cosmetics industry, plastic surgery, Barbie, Cosmo, et. al.

    It's just ridiculous! Sure Obama is the most handsome President since Kennedy, who, let's be honest, wasn't that hot. He should be turned into a sex object! Have some respect.

    April 23, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  24. Lauren

    Either version, the original or the altered one, are very nice pictures. I don't see why it was altered, the picture was fine in its original form.

    April 23, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  25. Shaun

    Seriously... this is what passes for news? Call me liberal if you wish but I am actually proud that we have someone in office that large circulation magazines WANT to put on their cover in a bathing suit! If it was McCain or Bush then the article would be about changing the color of a tie!

    Even if he is in no way an "Average Joe"... it is nice to see our President portrayed as one, from wearing jeans to go to a friends house to watch a BBall game, to wearing board shorts on the beach, it's good to see an "Average Joe" appearance!

    April 23, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
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