Media Imagery: A Subtle Way to Mislead the Public

Recently, I have seen the following image over and over again in various news articles related to Joe Biden. It seems to me that I have easily seen this general depiction at least a half dozen times since November 3rd. Take a look – what do you see?

Joe Biden – A crafted image that communicates a message

I see a planned and almost perfect photo of Joe Biden with his head and face framed in a halo-like circle and the intention could not be more clear. This photo is designed to frame Biden as a type of savior – a man filled with goodness, a man who can be counted upon to save the nation from every problem and challenge. Also, notice that due to the perspective of the photo, Biden stands taller than the American flags. All of this is well-designed by the media to carefully craft an image. This particular photo was used as the primary illustration for a story entitled, Biden calls on Trump to sign coronavirus stimulus bill, on December 27, 2020.

I studied public relations and communication at RIT and I understand the role of messaging, both written and through carefully crafted and staged images. The image above is no chance shot, nor is it a mistake. It was (like many others of similar nature) planned to help shape a narrative. The media is setting up the public for how Joe Biden will be portrayed to the American people should he take the oath of office on January 20.

Here is another image of presidential candidate Joe Biden from his campaign speech given in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, October 27, 2020.

Joe Biden – This Image Does Not Fit the Message! Or Does it?

Once again I ask, what do you see? This was a major speech given by candidate Biden with precious little time remaining before the election. Look at the image. Yes, Joe Biden is prominent and the camera is focused on the man himself as he presents an important speech. But the background stands out for millions to see: Kamala. What you see is Kamala. It’s the imagery that counts here, for the backdrop is blazed upon the mind of every person who watched and listened that day. Yes, I know as well as anyone that the entire sign stated, “Joe & Kamala.” But…

If I had been Joe Biden’s communications director that day, I would have thrown a strongly verbal and almost violent fit of anger. It is the role of a communications director to constantly check the messaging, verbal of course! But every trained communications specialist must be completely aware of every aspect of the message. This is their job and they are fully responsible to oversee every detail, whether it’s the work of the speech writer, or those who set the stage for the crowd. This includes those who will be physically present, as well as those who will be watching by television or the Internet. The communications team dropped the ball that day, unless it was planned and executed as designed. Think about that for a few moments!

Joe Biden is no saint and I think even his supporters would – for the most part – be willing to acknowledge that statement as fact. So, the ‘halo’ actually fools very few of us. However, at a time when we look to media outlets for truth, we often get a slanted or distorted look. The photo might be clear, but the image is misleading.

We must acknowledge the great value – and perhaps the great danger – of imagery in communication. The words are essential, but the visual element often remains long after the sound bite recedes into the distant reaches of our memory. Watch and listen, analyze and evaluate, come to sound conclusions. The words are important and informative, but so is the imagery!

© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2020
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)

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