Brianna Wu may be the most tech-savvy candidate running for Congress in Massachusetts this year. But would you vote for her or her opponents on Tuesday, based on this set of photos that appeared in the The Boston Globe’s guide to the primary election?
The guy on the left is incumbent Stephen Lynch, campaigning. The guy on the right is fighter pilot Christopher L. Voehl, standing in front of a wooden flag. The woman in the middle is Brianna Wu from many years ago, when she was a game developer and a victim in the Gamergate scandal.
Wu became apoplectic on Twitter when the photos appeared. Soon after, one of her followers noticed that her name was not included in the metadata for the page, which would make it hard to find in searches.
Wu claims this is not an appropriate representation of how she looks now, while campaigning. Here’s her tweet:
I have dressed professionally every day for 2 years to present myself as a serious candidate. Hair done professionally, down and straight. Natural color. Heels.
I have four versions of the same dress, I wear it so much.
It was 95 degrees today and I wore that canvassing.
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) August 29, 2018
After the criticism, the Globe replaced her picture with this one, from a television appearance:
This is still an odd choice, with the candidate off-center (she is cropped out in some mobile views). It’s especially odd since the Globe published an article less than a week earlier about her campaigning challenges, including this photo:
After the flap, the Globe released this statement:
An online primary guide we published this week featured an archive photo of Brianna Wu, a Democratic candidate for the Eight Congressional District. As soon as she brought it to our attention, we changed the photo to a more recent picture from her campaign. We called her this morning to apologize, explained that an older photo was used, and described the steps we’ve taken to rectify it. We’re sorry for this mistake. Additionally, she raised questions about the meta keywords on the article. These keywords are generated automatically, but we’ve manually added her name to the code to make sure it appears.
Is media reality?
Wu has a point. The original photo makes her look like looney next to two solid citizens. Stephen Lynch is the most conservative Democrat in the Massachusetts delegation, and Christopher Voehl’s positions are also to the right of Wu’s. I’ve followed Wu’s tweets and statements closely, and her positions mirror and in some cases are more liberal than our liberal senator, Elizabeth Warren.
Does the guide matter? Absolutely. For voters who are actually making a choice in this race, as opposed to voting for the incumbent by habit or staying home, the Boston Globe’s election guide may be the most influential piece of media they see.
Does the photo choice matter? Definitely. Photos make an impression. Anyone concerned about whether Wu is out of the mainstream had those concerns inflamed by the choice of photo — at least until the Globe changed it. And the replacement photo makes no sense given they already had a photo of Wu campaigning (and looking more like a hard campaigner, just like the two men in the race).
The photo editor’s choice is just as much a problem as if there was an inaccuracy in the text.
(She works out at my gym. I’m not judging her based on how she looks on the stairclimber, either, although I do give her credit for working on keeping in shape.)
Wu’s past is absolutely an issue. If you would never vote for someone with a dyed red streak in her hair, then I guess you have a right to know what Wu used to look like. But if you are choosing one iconic photo to use to represent her, that’s not a fair choice, especially compared to her opponents’ photos. The Globe is capable of showing decent photos of other women congressional candidates, like these, in the same guide:
Every choice a media outlet makes matters. You never see the “whole” story, and the question of balance is a tricky one.
Every media outlet must hold itself accountable, as the Globe did here.
Consumers of media, especially voters, must find multiple sources. The original photo of Brianna Wu is one side of her. The other photos are other sides of her. You need to know all of them to make a choice. In the case of this district, there’s no better showcase than @spacekatgal, Brianna Wu’s Twitter feed. When you can see the candidate’s unvarnished viewpoints, you can learn a lot.
We need independent media, even when they make mistakes. The Globe screwed up here. But we’d be lost without them. Media organizations like the Globe ought to be hard on themselves about this stuff. Because I’d much rather see that, than see government regulating them in the name of “fake news.”