Tuesday, May 11, 2010

And in the white trunks ...

In today's installment of his "After Deadline" blog, the New York Times's Philip Corbett criticizes the editor who wrote the original caption for this photo: "Rielle Hunter, left, and Oprah Winfrey in an interview shown Thursday. Ms. Hunter spoke of her affair with John Edwards."

Says Corbett: "I think we can assume at this point that in a photo of two women, our readers will know which one is Oprah Winfrey. The "left" makes it look as though we're editing on autopilot."

I'm not so sure. Of course Oprah is one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. Still, I guarantee I could find someone right there in New York City who has never put the name together with the face (I'm looking at you, Jack). And I have to wonder: Would Corbett make the same call if the woman Oprah was photographed with was also African-American? Or is he just confident that everyone who sees the photo of her and Rielle Hunter will at least know that Oprah's the black lady?

Sometimes autopilot is the safest way to fly.

Photo: George Burns/Harpo Productions, via AP


Grammar Parrot said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure he could have left out "left"--if the reader doesn't recognize who Oprah is, he probably isn't interested in the picture or the article.

Q. Pheevr said...

Sometimes autopilot is the safest way to fly.

Yup. It's really not worth the effort to work out exactly where to draw the line between people whom everyone should recognize and people who need to be identified, so why not just go ahead and identify everyone consistently? (I'm with Harold "Who He?" Ross on this one, I think.) Besides, this is the Newspaper of Record we're talking about here; while they're writing for today's readers, it doesn't hurt to throw in a "left" for the benefit of future archive-browsers.

I also think that the "left" is warranted by the structure of the caption. I do know what Oprah Winfrey looks like, but I've never seen a picture of Rielle Hunter before, and I don't really know who she is. For all I know when I start reading the caption, she might be an Oprah impersonator. Since the caption mentions Hunter before it informs me that the person on the right is indeed Winfrey, I'm quite happy for it to tell me that Hunter is on the left.

Faldone said...

I say go autopilot. It's not like they lost a lot of valuable room by putting in the ", left," and it saves anybody from having to make the decision.

The Ridger, FCD said...

The Moscow Times printed a picture of well-known (to Russians anyway) convicted oligarch Khodorkovsky, in prison garb and cuffs, being taken into a courtroom by several uniformed cops. They too put a "left" (more accurately a "second from right") in the caption. That struck me as especially hilarious.

John Cowan said...

2% of the readers of such a caption have prosopagnosia, also called face blindness, which makes it impossible to identify people by their faces alone. I'm one of them, so I greatly appreciate such captions. More famous people with the same problem are Penn Jillette and Jane Goodall.