NOM’s Unethical Swiping of Obama Rally Photos

The website “Good As You” points out that NOM has swiped photos from Obama for President rallies and used them on their website as if they were photos of NOM rallies. (Here and here.)

Let’s face it — this sort of error is funny. (And I’m sure people on all sides get caught making funny errors now and again.)

But it’s also bothersome, ethically. Aside from the obvious deception regarding the size of the crowds at NOM rallies, isn’t it wrong to use a photo of people who, it’s pretty safe to guess, overwhelmingly oppose NOM’s goals?

[The above post was originally posted on Family Scholars Blog. It got linked by Good As You and by The New Civil Rights Movement, where folks seem to be making some assumptions about who I am; the NCRM calls me a right-winger! :-p ]

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10 Responses to NOM’s Unethical Swiping of Obama Rally Photos

  1. 1
    fannie says:

    LOL @ you being a right-winger.

    Anyway, yes, I agree NOM’s behavior is unethical in this instance. It’s also pretty pathetic.

  2. 2
    JutGory says:

    I don’t know, apart from the possible copyright infringement, i see this as pretty harmless.
    I looked at the crowd pictures much the same way as I would a stock photo.
    The website is trying to drum up a grass-roots movement, so they find a picture of a crowd.
    They think they are a populist or majority movement, so they find a picture of a crowd.
    I don’t think it is deceptive to put a guy who looks like he is talking on the phone (even if he is not actually talking on the phone), because they are encouraging the non-fake phone callers to call the real phone panel they may have set up, not the probably fake phone panel picture actors they have on their website picture.

    In short, these struck me as marketing, not news reporting. If it was news reporting, that would be a completely different matter.


  3. 3
    Robert says:

    You wealthy right-wing tax-dodging cartoonists sicken me, with your undermining of the good and true people who make up the progressive movement. Shame! SHAME!!!

  4. 4
    mythago says:

    In short, these struck me as marketing, not news reporting.

    In other words, it’s OK to lie as long as you call it ‘marketing’?

  5. 5
    JutGory says:

    I guess, in a word, “yes.”
    But I would take issue with your definition of the word, “lie.”
    I see actors in commercials all the time. They are “acting,” that is playing a part or not being genuine. It is staged.
    Fiction is a “lie,” but we don’t criticize Steinbeck because Lennie and George were not real people.
    There is also “artistic license.” Is that a lie? Perhaps under your definition, and, if it is, I think it is okay.
    To take another example: look at the “we are the 99%.” Complete and total “lie,” by your definition. I am part of the 99%, but they don’t represent me (at least, not as far as I can tell-I am not really sure exactly what they want). Just because they are against the 1% does not mean that they are the 99%. But, you know what: it’s marketing; it’s rhetorical; it is trying to convey an idea, even if it is not entirely accurate. So, the 99% does not really bother me either. Or do you agree with the 53% guy, who is probably more accurate in his statements than the 99% people?

    But, yes, if you are reporting the news, if you are claiming to represent reality, if you are claiming to be objective, the limits are much more stringent on the way in which you represent it.


  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    But Jut, I think it’s fair to say that everyone understands actors say scripted lines and play characters who are not themselves. Even the children I live with (ages 6 and 8 ) clearly understand that Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter but is not the same as the Mad Hatter.

    I don’t think it’s at all obvious to most people that the photos of rallys on the website of a political group that organizes rallys, are not photos of their own rallys.

    Also, actors agree to act. They sign contracts and are paid, typically. In contrast, the Democratic activists in the photos NOM uses wouldn’t agree to appear in NOM publicity, if they’d been asked.

  7. 7
    JutGory says:

    I agree with you to the extent that you acknowledge that there is a lot of nuance here.
    Mythago’s statement this is a “lie” paints it with too broad a brush. In the picture I recall, there was a street scene with actual protesters, a man on a phone, a picture of a phone bank, and a crowd picture (the picture at issue); there might have been a flag picture in there too. here is my breakdown:

    1. Street scene: probably actual protesters, not paid actors, at an actual event for this group (or an affiliated NOM group (since the website is from a New Hampshire group, if I recall correctly), but they were holding signs for this cause).
    2. A man on a phone: probably an actor, maybe paid and probably hired by this group (i.e. not a stock photo of any sort).
    3. A phone bank: same as 2.
    4. Crowd scene: stock photo of a crowd. (Obviously, it was not, because we know where it came from now. But, like 1, it appears to be unstaged; the people were not paid, even by the AP. But, unlike 1, almost no one is identifiable (there is someone at the podium, I think, who might be able to say, “that’s me,” but that is about it).
    5. Flag picture: looks like a stock photo. With the light behind it, it creates a nice ring of light. It probably was not created by or for this group.

    To some extent, my thought is: if we can’t identify one of these people who don’t support this cause, how are they “victims”? A group shot of identifiable people would be completely different. You know, “nuance.”

    So, the single montage mixes several different types of pictures together and it is too simple to say that using a picture of completely unidentifiable people from a completely different event constitutes a “lie.” Just as the kids you live with might look at the guy talking on the phone as an actor, they might think, as I did, that they just pulled out a picture of a crowd scene because they wanted that sort of image in there.

    Again, like I said, this is basically harmless. But, I would contrast this with the complaints made about Glen Beck, when he was caught mixing up file footage from one event (a Tea Party event) with his rally (or maybe it was a different Tea Party event). That seems like a more valid criticism because, even though they were two events of identical or like-minded groups, they were represented as one thing (an event that took place in the fall) when they were actually something else (an event that took place in the summer).


  8. 8
    Myca says:

    I think that representing your movement as enjoying more popular support than it does by swiping a photo from an opposing movement, is pretty obviously vile.

    I don’t think we need to get into the ins and outs of nuance here. This is clear.


  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    (there is someone at the podium, I think, who might be able to say, “that’s me,” but that is about it)

    That would be Barack Obama.

  10. 10
    JutGory says:

    Myca: I disagree that it is clear.
    Furthermore, you are changing the question. The question was not whether they are representing that they have more popular support then they do. If that were the case, the picture is probably accurate because NOM (if not the New Hampshire chapter) probably has more members than the number of people in that picture.

    Or, assuming that the picture used was from a national NOM rally, would it be as obviously vile, because it would still over-represent the NH chapter?

    By the same token, one could then ask whether it would be okay for the 99%’s to use that same picture in their promotions. Many of the people pictured, including Obama, probably support that cause. Is that the real issue? I do not think so.

    And, if it is a matter of over-representing your popular support, is the 99%, by naming themselves that, equally vile?

    Ampersand: yes, I see that the AP identifies it as Obama. But, without knowing that, can you really tell? My point being, when you look at the montage, do you think, “hey, I did not know the President supported that cause”? No, you don’t, because you can’t really tell it is him. They don’t make that claim (and likely don’t expect you to make the association). You need the context to know what you are looking at, the same way the kids you live with are not fooled by the Mad Hatter because they know it is just Johnny Depp. But, isn’t that the point? There does not appear to be any intent to deceive. A close-up of Obama, where he is readily identifiable, sends a completely different message.

    I still don’t see anything here that says anything more than, “we need a crowd picture, let’s go find one.” Certainly, there are other possible explanations, but they are supported by little more than speculation.