Saturday, February 1, 2014

Makes me sick

A while back a friend of mine wrote a book and wanted to make an "indie" movie out of it. I wound up doing a bunch of research on filming. What I learned changed how I view news. Why? Because one of the things I learned was how to make "good' and "bad" shots. Things like how you choose camera angles, lighting, composition, surroundings.

So when a news story on two political candidates shows one like this

and the other like this

they are not providing news, they are campaigning for one candidate over the other. Those images are from real local news stories (from covering the NJ senate campaign of Steve Lonegan vs. Cory Booker. Guess who won, by the way.

In video, there are even more tricks you can use to subtly influence public opinion. You can intersperse footage with vignettes of people's reactions of how you want the audience to feel. You can use handheld camera shots on the parts you want people to dislike, resulting in wobbly footage that makes people uncomfortable to watch. You can have distracting background noise present in clips you don't want the viewer to engage in. Or a visually cluttered background. You can add subtle pleasant (or unpleasant) background music. You can manipulate people off camera to look happy or sad, and then film them.

The thing is that most of these things can be attributed to "chance" rather than "will" ("oh, that's just where 'X' happened to be standing"). But the truth is, a good photographer can control all of these variables, and when professional news reporters do it in stories, they are not reporting news, they are providing propaganda.

And so I am critical of "news" stories, especially "special reports." Last night I watched the ABC 20/20 special "Young Guns" - I was not disappointed. In addition to using faulty and false statistics, conflating one set of statistics with another, and devising "experiments" to "prove" guns are bad, the camera work and mood music were as expected, complete with little girls crying and clueless looking gun owners. Certainly the topic is something we should have a national conversation about, but this was not a conversation, this was a propaganda flick.

Just something to think about, the next time you watch the news.


All this is especially true with the advent of professional quality digital cameras. Since the "film" is reusable and cheap, photographers can take hundreds of photos in a very short span of time. Watch a congressional hearing or political speech, and you'll see photographers who are taking shot after shot after shot from different angles, locations and camera settings. It's not a coincidence that there were large numbers of images with "halos" behind President (then candidate) Obama during his 2008 campaign. Likewise, it's not a coincidence that politicians unpopular with the press are shown mid-speech with their mouths open in a way that makes them look clueless or aggressive - like the example of Steve Longegan above. Unfortunately, most people aren't aware of how these images can shape our perspectives on people, so thanks for writing this!

Exactly. Perceiving the bias is halfway to being able to get to truth. And lest i get accused of one-sidedness, the same is true in conservative press, where unflattering pictures of President Obama or Nancy Pelosi are de rigueur.

And I certainly do not expect anything else in an opinion piece, but then two opposed positions are being reported on, I'd like a little less bias and a little more reporting.

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