By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Torturing a Cheney photo

cheney_20090917Well-known photojournalist David Hume Kennerly is ripping mad at Newsweek for cropping his photo of Dick Cheney and his family to make it look like the former vice president is picking over the remains of a small animal. (Be sure to click through so that you can see the before and after pictures.)

Appropriately enough (make that inappropriately enough), the photo was used to illustrate something Cheney had said about torture, of which he’s all in favor.

Noting that Newsweek had taken a picture of a warm family scene and cropped it so that it looked like an animal sacrifice, with Cheney as the knife-wielding priest, Kennerly writes:

This radical alteration is photo fakery. Newsweek’s choice to run my picture as a political cartoon not only embarrassed and humiliated me and ridiculed the subject of the picture, but it ultimately denigrated my profession.

Kennerly’s right on target, as the lame response from a Newsweek spokesman makes clear. The photo was tortured into something that it was not. As a result, it’s not journalism, either.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


Murder suspect charged — and named


Getting ready for the stretch run


  1. lkcape

    Tie this into your comments on the New Haven Register’s caving in on the principals of good journalism just because others are avoiding them, and your article in The Guardian.

    And you wonder why jouralists have lost credibility?

  2. Treg

    The issue here is taste, not credibility. No one is misled about Cheney’s views.

    If Kennerly doesn’t like what Newsweek does with his photos, he should sell them to someone else.

  3. charles pierce

    When I think of injustices done to Dick Cheney, I…
    Nope. Don’t really care.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Charles: There was no injustice done to Cheney — not sure how one would go about doing such a thing. The injustice done was to the truth.

    You can write a column calling Cheney a war criminal. You can’t bolster it with a quote taken so completely out of context that the original meaning is unrecognizable.

  5. charles pierce

    True enough.
    Fact is, truth has survived greater injustices, many of them inflicted by this guy and his ilk.

  6. Newshound

    This is a violation to the readers of Newsweek, aside from Dick Cheney and the photographer.

    Pictures and alterations can be a lot of fun. Mr. Cheney isn’t popular many places these days. His methodology of protecting US citizens may have been necessary but it is conjecture and we will never know. Even though his methodology is not well accepted overall, doesn’t mean that any of us as readers of Newsweek deserve to be mislead.

    Aside from that, it looks to me like he is putting sauce on a pizza to be baked but cropping the picture as they did – – – well, it probably would have been more appropriate to have run a political cartoon instead as we can accept opinion too, if that is the way it is presented.

    If Cheney’s are bothered by this that would be rather small compared to the millions of devoted readers of Newsweek who should be able to accept the credibility of the magazine to at least not wreck its own integrity.

  7. lkcape

    Truth, Dan, truth?

    Why should that get in the way of a an effective slur?

  8. Newshound

    One more thing – – – I think almost all of us could give a hoot if Dick-The-Torturer and his family and friends (if he has any left) dislike the picture or think it is unfair journalism.

    This has nothing to do with the ‘ole Waterboarder’s feelings.

    If I read what is suppose to be a credible magazine I expect it to be trustworthy. If I read a funnybook I expect it to be funny.

  9. Sean

    Big “who cares?” on the photo imbroglio. But, using the word “torture” (twice) to describe alteration of a photo certainly saps the word of its meaning, doesn’t it?

  10. Sean

    I take it back, I do have a position. Kennerly was hired to capture the scene. He framed it as he saw fit. The issue is not truth. It would have been a “true” picture if he had originally framed Cheney and the beef. He didn’t. He thought the broader perspective was more interesting and relevant. His editors substituted their judgment for his.

    That’s not an assault on truth.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Sean: Nice try. I don’t think anyone is going to do better. But you’re wrong.

      Kennerly’s job was not just to aim his camera and shoot. It was to use his judgment as a journalist in order to tell a true story. He is not providing mere raw material for others to use as they wish. It was unconscionable for an editor to do this without Kennerly’s knowledge. At good publications, at least, editors and writers work together, and writers get the chance to argue, even if they don’t win every argument. Kennerly believes he captured something true, and that the cropped version of his photo is false. He’s a Pulitzer winner. Attention must be paid.

      It was Mrs. Media Nation, a former newspaper photographer, who called my attention to this item. She has a well-developed critique of the situation that prevails at most publications, where word people are in charge of picture people, and consider them to be a lower form of life. Editors routinely do things to photographs and photos that they would never dare to do a writer. This is yet another example.

  11. Treg

    Dan, I like your 4:18 comments. But I can’t agree with Kennerly’s view that, as you put it, “the cropped version of his photo is false.”

    Cheney really was standing there, carving a piece of meat (or whatever he’s doing). There’s nothing false about it. Kennerly is just mad because he takes photos that he feels tell stories, and the cropped version of this one doesn’t tell the story he was trying to tell. But that’s not the same as saying it’s “false.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      Treg: The point is that Kennerly, the journalist who was there, thinks it’s false. No good editor would do to a word journalist what was done to this photojournalist.

  12. Treg

    Dan – Ok, I know you know a lot more about the biz than I do. But do you really mean that? In threads on plagiarism, you’ve written that newspaper editors do all kinds of things to their writers’ work the reader never knows about.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Treg: Yes — working with the writer. Unless there’s just no time, which sometimes happens.

      And P.S. It’s not just the cropping of the Cheney photo, it’s the recontextualization. It was cropped so that we only see him cutting red meat, and then used to illustrate his offensive comments about torture. As Kennerly says, it was transformed into an editorial cartoon without his knowledge.

  13. Treg

    I agree with that. And I agree it was a cheap and stupid little joke on Newsweek’s part.

    I can’t completely agree with your postscript. It’s clear he’s standing in his kithen slicing up food – not in a dungeon slicing, well, whatever.

  14. Treg

    I should clarify that I meant I agree that the recontextualization is problematic and they shouldn’t have done it.

    But I disagree that it was to the extent that we have no sense of the original context. He’s in a nice kitchen somewhere, in a sport coat, slicing up steak.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Treg: Consider what the Newsweek spokesman says in defense of the recontextualization: “Did we use the image to make an editorial point — in this case, about the former vice president’s red-blooded, steak-eating, full-throated defense of his views and values? Yes, we did.” With spokesmen like that, …

  15. Treg

    In other words (and with any luck, this is my last bumbling comment for a while), I agree, but I don’t think it’s a very big deal. Maybe if I was a bigtime photojournalist I’d feel differently.

    • Dan Kennedy

      In the larger scheme of things, no, not a big deal. If journalism ethics is one of your main professional obsessions, as it is mine, then it’s a big deal.

      I write about many, many things that are not a big deal outside my little world. Kind of a working definition of blogging, isn’t it?

  16. Treg

    Agreed – not much of a PR guy, is he?

  17. Treg


  18. lkcape

    It is interesting to note who, in this conversation, understand the point your are making, Dan, and who does not.

  19. Al

    Was the story a Kennerly photo essay, or an article about Cheney which used a cropped, but not otherwise manipulated photo of his? I would be more annoyed if the story was a Kennerly product, beginning to end, than if it was written by someone else, using an image taken by Kennerly to create an impression. If it was John Doe who took the picture, instead of a world famous Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, would anyone notice?

  20. Bob Gardner

    And what is the story that Kennerly is peddling? That Dick Cheney is the family cook? That he cooked this steak and there is no domestic help outside the picture? That the Cheneys eat together all the time?
    Seems to me that Kennerly is selling all those premises in his photo and if any of those premises are false his photo is false also.

  21. ShadowFox

    Maybe I am just too preoccupied with words, but I don’t see much going on here. First question is whose photo is it? Yes, Kennerly took the shot, but is he the copyright holder? If so, Newsweek is wrong on an entirely different level and they certainly should have consulted him. But if the shot was taken on assignment and the rights are with Newsweek, the photo goes with the feature and is theirs to do with as they please.
    Creatively, it’s a different question. Did Kennerly compose the shot? Was he communicating a message? (Dick Cheney as a human being?) And was this perverted by the cropped shot? (Dick Cheney as a blood-slurping torturer?) In this sense, the cropping is the equivalent of taking words out of context.

    But, the problem is, the cropping did not really eliminate anything meaningful from the photo. It’s still obvious that Cheney is standing in a kitchen. There are other people in the background. Sure, it’s not the original framing, but who’s working the story? Kennerly or someone else?

    I can understand why Kennerly would go apoplectic over what he saw as misuse of HIS photo, his creation. But for anyone else to join him in this criticism is silly. Most readers would not even pay much attention to the photo and just go for the story.

  22. lkcape

    I would expect that Kennerly, with his reputation and experience in the industry, at worst, has a contract that gives first use to Newsweek but that he retains the copyright.


    Whether or not Newsweek owns the copyright, they buy the heat for cropping the photo for their own purposes and using it in a context of their own manufacture.

    That’s not just sloppy journalism, it’s worthy of the tag “yellow journalism”.

    One wonders how those who do such things, and those that see nothing wrong, can argue about the authenticity of their offerings with a straight face.

  23. Treg

    “Yellow journalism”? One wonders why one would stop there – why not just call it what it is: TREASON!!!!!!

    ikcape, you’re only interested because it’s Cheney. I agree it was a poor editorial decision, but give me a break.

    I’ll go even further. There are plenty of photos of Cheney they could have used that would be thoroughly unflattering to him, and make their point, without any need for recontextualization.

  24. lkcape

    No, Treg, you do not deserve a break for supporting an editorialization based on false premises.

    That is dishonesty.

    Support of that says a lot.

    To say that there were plenty of other photos that could have been used is an acceptance of a “any means to achieve an end”….the very same sort of accusation that you are leveling at Cheney.

    So which is more important? The truth or the end?

    I am not willing to sacrifice the former for the latter. Are you?

  25. Treg


  26. Neil

    “The photo was tortured into something that it was not.”

    So now the press is ready to use the word ‘torture’ as opposed to the mind-numbing and reality tilting metaphor ‘enhanced interrogation’ …but not ‘torture’ as in severe pain, fear of death and oxygen deprivation but ‘torture’ as in ‘you re-cropped my photo’. Boohoo.

    These inside media stories are mind-numbing in what they reveal about the gap between journalists and their readers.

    Now David Hume Kennedy who won a Pulitzer three decades ago won’t be invited back to the Cheney’s and other right-wing politicians homes because he allowed his work to be used to make Dick Cheney look hungry.

  27. Neil

    “According to the rules of establishment journalism, there is no truth and no facts — only competing, irreconcilable claims from “the Right and the Left,” and their only job is to mindlessly repeat those claims”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén