Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Tina Smith, Doing the Work

Having a celebrity for a U.S. senator means many people know who that person is. It's an unfair advantage when running, though being a celebrity can bring its own baggage, as Al Franken found when he was first running in Minnesota. He overcame that and managed to get elected, then did a good job, before we found out he had hoisted himself on his own petard.

When he resigned in early 2018, he was replaced by our highly regarded Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, who had a long track record of effective work behind the scenes before she became LG. I personally knew little about Smith except that many people I respected thought a lot of her, and that she had been in an executive position at our regional Planned Parenthood at some point (a plus in my book). She has since been elected to a full term.

As one of our senators, she has represented us well, aside from not standing up to stop Line 3. Currently she is leading the national charge for the Clean Electricity Standard that you may have heard about, if you follow climate change policy. This is one of the most important national efforts underway, and it's not something that Franken would have been doing, so it annoys me when I see people whining about how they wish he would run again. (What? Against who, Amy Klobuchar in 2024?) They're all people who don't actually pay attention to what's happening, but tuned in when there was a Judiciary Committee hearing where Franken could show off. 

Anyway. Tina Smith has been doing the work, especially for a new member of the Senate.

So that's why I was perplexed and annoyed by the way her hometown newspaper covered that work in today's edition:

The story and all of the words are fine, but think about their juxtaposition to that photo, which takes up close to half the page.

What is the photo editor trying to say in selecting that image? Was it supposed to mean Smith is thoughtful? Because if that's the intent, I don't think that's what the average reader will get from it. Instead, Smith will be seen as dejected or hesitant. Maybe praying? Does she look like she's "leaning in"? Does she look like she's "pushing"?

Can you imagine a male politician being portrayed this way in a story where they're leading? Sure, maybe in a story about their misdeeds or something, but in a generally positive story about them, even if it's one that has some element of conflict?

I just can't make heads or tails of what editorial process could have led to this selection. 

Oh geez, I just looked up the photographer's name, Cheryl Diaz Meyer, and found out she's also the senior photo editor and a Pulitzer Prize winner. What the hell. This is making less and less sense.

Check this out, here's the Diaz Meyer photo of Smith that's used in the online version of this story, which uses the secondary headline from the print edition (there's no "leaning in" for online readers):

This photo is more typical for politicians, and in that sense more boring, but also not misleading. 

And just for reference, here are other photos Diaz Meyer has taken of Minnesota Congressional representatives that have run in the Strib online:

Dean Phillips, looking like he came over from central casting, as TFG would say.

Pete Stauber, speaking (fairly equivalent to the online Tina Smith photo).

This Betty McCollum photo, while nice as a portrait, is a bit on the soft side for a story whose headline and content are about her increasing influence on defense spending, don't you think?

It's a small sample, but I'm tending to think this divergence comes from some internalized sexism combined with a lack of editorial oversight, since Diaz Meyer is both the photographer and the editor.

But Tina Smith deserves better from you, Star Tribune.

(Now let's stop Line 3, Senator Smith!)


1 comment:

Bill Lindeke said...

Good catch. I think often about how the photo of Alondra Cano standing in the park in the summer of 2020 is used in ways that seem sexist to me.