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Sexual Breast Photo Page One New York Times

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Message Dennie Williams
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The large Page One photo of the partially bare breast of "a Tel Aviv woman, 28," years old and unnamed, is not only in poor taste and too sexual-sensual, but simply unnecessary and inappropriate for a paper like The New York Times. 
Yes, this is a story in Wednesday's paper about high breast cancer rates in Israel and the photo shows two breasts, one fully covered and the other, partially covered. Part of the surrounding nipple area is showing and a several inch knife cut higher up, along with a tattoo of a Jewish star. close to her shoulder. 
Of course, she is unnamed and her face is cut off in that photo. And, if the clothing had been raised just a tiny, tiny bit, the readers would see just the relevant red scar and the Jewish star, not the lower bit portion of the breast.
What is the point? If this was a sensationalist newspaper or a specially sex-oriented news sheet, I would understand the attempt at the slightly sensational. But, The New York Times prides itself on being professional and particularly when writing a woman's health article. 
Times Public Editor Maureen Sullivan was even prompted to write a column on the controversial photo soon after it appeared. " The photograph is garnering comment in other publications, such as Slate and New York Magazine , and is the subject of plenty of conversation on Twitter." 
That is apparently what The Times wanted!

However, Sullivan quoted  Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor in charge of photography, about why the photograph was chosen and the thinking behind using it.

"It's directly on point to the story," she said. "It conveys a lot of information. It brings the reality to light. It's also very beautiful -- the lighting, the composition, the tone."

But in reading the text of the article, even in part on Page One, shows no rationale whatsoever for this photo. It's not showing cancer distortions or this particular cancerous victim's face in pain. And, indeed in this photo, the woman is unidentified, except for her age and city. 
The obvious reason for this large Page One image is this! It helps create either temporary excitement and chatter, or rabid controversy among the two hundred readers commenting in the web site comments section underneath the article the day it appeared. They included two-sided arguments over whether the photo is appropriate or not. 
A news story, its tasteful photos, its detailed inquiry of the accurate facts, as well as the controversial subject itself, are supposed to create interest among readers and a better understanding of the subject. That should not include an irrelevant, large provocative photo on Page One, leading the paper right underneath the paper's name plate.
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Thomas D. Williams, a freelance writer, worked at The Hartford Courant for almost 40 years before retiring in November 2005 to become an investigative freelancer on Internet news sites. He has written a unique nature book, The Spirits of Birds, (more...)
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