Reading The Pictures: Miller Time



If all the commentary attempting to make sense of the Judith Miller - NYTimes relationship only creates more confusion, I've got some photographic material you can add to the pile.

If my understanding is correct, the paper released these photos this past Monday, the same day the NYT published their account (side-by-side with Miller's account) of her role in the Plame affair. According to the AP caption, the images show Miller "being welcomed back to the newsroom by staff and editors [on] Monday Oct. 3, 2005 " following her release from prison Thursday, Sept. 29th.

By Executive Editor Bill Keller's own admission, Miller has been a strong-willed renegade who not only would not be managed, but also was never kept in line by any of her direct supervisors. As a result, the runaway Miller ended up exploiting and compromising the credibility of the paper.

In reading news photos, one must exercise the ultimate restraint in ascribing much, or anything, to the motivations and behaviors of the pictured individuals. This prohibition can be eased, however, in the case of family photos (which these essentially are) when we know something of the personality, dynamics and history of those involved. Of course, if the family also has self-selected the images (as is the case here), it lends the photos even greater interpretative value (even if the selection criteria is not so clear).

Because I see the analysis of political images (as well as the mere act of speaking out in the blogosphere) as a communal effort, I invite your reading of these photos in the comment thread. As you consider what you're looking at, however, remember that there are actually three questions involved here:

The first question is, what's happening in the specific picture? The second is, why did The Times chose these specific pictures? (After all, this is a newspaper, so some editorial process had to have occurred to select these shots over others.) And the third question is, what was the motivation for releasing these when they did (or at all)?

For my part, I offer a somewhat psychological interpretation of the pictures which sticks with the family analogy and basically speaks to question number one:

I see Miller as that daughter who has her father wrapped around her little finger. On the surface, you see the family intimacy reflected in Miller's embrace with managing editor John Geddes, and in Bill Keller's red-faced laughter in between. As we all know however, family intimacy doesn't always equate with love. From publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.'s body language (at left), I think you could read the "hands on the hips" posture to possibly include a little corporate dubiousness as to the genuineness of Miller's affection.

In my mind, the second picture is a more negative one for The Times to release. Of course, the gestures and positioning could simply represent Miller and Keller sharing a joke. At the same time, though, it suggests to me how much Miller values her own interests as compared to those of the paper. You can see it in the way she listens to Keller with one ear, but reserves her main attention for the camera. Perhaps it is also expressed in the pace she sets, which seems to leave the less self-conscious Executive Editor a half-step behind.

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(image 1 & 2: Marilyn K. Yee for The New York Times/A.P. Monday, Oct. 3, 2005. New York. Via YahooNews.)