Low blow

A number of you have asked me about the actions of Jill Greenberg in photographing McCain for our cover:

"Greenberg also crowed that she had tricked McCain into standing over a strobe light placed on the floor - turning the septuagenarian's face into a horror show of shadows.

Asking McCain to 'please come over here' for a final shot, Greenberg pretended to be using a standard modeling light.

The resulting photos depict McCain as devilish, with bulging brows and washed-out skin.

'He had no idea he was being lit from below," Greenberg said, adding that none of his entourage picked up on the light switch either. 'I guess they're not very sophisticated,' she said.

Like Jeffrey Goldberg, I'm appalled.  So is James Bennet.  But what many of our critics seem not to have noticed is that we didn't use the trick photo.    No one knew what she was planning to do, and if the magazine had known, they certainly wouldn't have hired her.  I've been staring at the photograph we did select for fifteen minutes, and darned if I can see anything wrong with it; McCain looks quite good in it, as far as I can see.

Magazines have to extend their writers and photographers a great deal of trust.  The editors can't follow people around to make sure that they don't make up quotes or stage photographs, any more than the department chair can follow around historians to ensure that they do accurate research.  Occasionally, writers like Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair, or photographers like Jill Greenberg, violate that trust.  But that isn't because the editors lack integrity, or endorse their reprehensible actions.  In cases like this, all a magazine can do is refuse to employ Ms. Greenberg again--a course that I suspect will be followed by any magazine with integrity.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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