Covergate: Washingtonian President & Publisher Responds to Criticism

In a memo obtained today by FBDC, Washingtonian President and Publisher Catherine Merrill Williams addresses the attention and criticism the mag’s May cover of a shirtless President Obama has received with her staff, saying she is “overwhelmed and pleased that we have garnered so much attention for this great issue.”

As for questions of photoshopping and ethics, Williams says the magazine only changed the color of the President’s bathing suit and did not airbrush Obama. “Our change was nothing more than what nearly every magazine in the country does to cover photos on a regular basis to ensure it conveys the concept clearly,” it reads.

Dear Team,

As you know, there’s been a lot of debate and discussion online and on television in recent days about our May cover of President Obama. The response has been overwhelming, especially since the photo had been widely circulated when it originally came out. We’ve seen articles from as far away as India, debates about the cover in European newspapers, as well as coverage on CNN, MSNBC, Extra, Anderson Cooper, Fox, and even those little TVs in the back of taxicabs in New York City. We’ve received hundreds of comments on our website, by email, and by telephone from people who love the cover and from people who don’t. And more than 230,000 people have voted on the cover in an AOL poll. I am overwhelmed and pleased that we have garnered so much attention for this great issue of the magazine.

Because there’s been some misinformation spread about the cover, I want to be very clear about what we did and didn’t do. The only change we made was switching Barack Obama’s bathing suit from navy blue to red. We did it solely for graphic design reasons and to ensure good contrast on the black background of the cover. Our change was nothing more than what nearly every magazine in the country does to cover photos on a regular basis to ensure it conveys the concept clearly. We did not alter President Obama’s skin tone in any way. We did not airbrush him, remove or add anything to the picture. Our only substantive change was the bathing suit color, which we will explain on the Feedback page in the June issue.

As for the accusations that changing the image in this way was unethical, I fundamentally disagree. The ethical line for me is drawn at news photojournalism, where an image captures a specific moment in time — which means the photo is conveying a date and a location. I hope we would all agree images of this nature must adhere to the strictest of standards and where any photoshopping or altering would be inappropriate. Magazines, especially on covers, use creative freedom to convey a visual concept and an idea. I strongly believe that people, and especially our readers, are able to distinguish the difference.

Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to discuss with anyone. Thanks for everyone’s hard work on this issue — I’m thrilled with the issue and the attention it’s getting.

Warmly,

CMW

Catherine Merrill Williams
President & Publisher
Washingtonian Magazine



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