The New York Times has another great example of ideological subtext in a story on the front page of the August 7, 2009 business section titled “Trickle-Down Costs” and again it had to do with the selection of photos.
The story concerned the pressures on state governments to cut Medicaid costs and focused on Medicaid challenges and cutbacks in the state of Washington. There was one photo on page B1 and another on the continuation on page B4 (all national edition). Both photos were of African-Americans on Medicaid in the state of Washington. Keep in mind that only 3% of all Washington state Medicaid recipients are African-American and only 12% of all recipients nationwide are African-American, according to the latest study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The possible ideological subtext that we can infer from this selection of photographs is odious and clearly plays into some old and ugly myths, to say the least.
Remember that as with the Times article described in my August 7 post, the writer of this article, Clifford Krauss, and the editor made a conscious decision to run just these photographs.
But maybe there is another explanation: Maybe both reporters were cutting corners—grab a few case histories and take a few photos in one city and don’t be concerned with what subtext they might communicate. Cutting corners or saving on costs or both—that would be the “Occam’s Razor” explanation. (Occam’s Razor is the idea that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.) While I’m reasonably sure that the Times does color its stories to convey, and overestimate, the centrality of Christianity to contemporary society in the U.S., I’m also fairly certain that the Times absolutely does not routinely trade in inaccurate racial stereotypes.