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In Our View /Legislative portraits


No picture-perfect reality

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While the news about Rep. Mike Hope's shirtless photos certainly garnered a lot of attention, an earlier report revealing the routine digital retouching of state lawmakers' official online portraits didn't seem to get under anyone's skin. Maybe it's just accepted now that the fake world presented on TV and in movies, and now, of course, online, is what's real. The world where everyone looks better than they really do. It's the fuzzy factor, or fudge factor, the one that doesn't question the routine air-brushing of flaws.
In May, The News Tribune reported on the practice after discovering, in the process of uploading the lawmakers' photos to the newspaper's website, that six state senators' official portraits contained embedded notes suggesting how they should be digitally altered.
One such note, in Sen. Don Benton's photo, requested that Benton would like "to diminish the gap between the front two teeth. He'd like to decrease the bags under his eyes. He'd like to make the whites in the corner of his eyes slightly more white."
The News Tribune filed a public records request for before-and-after photos of those six senators, as well as for eight randomly selected House members.
"Compared with the 13 original photos the Legislature provided, the edited versions all showed signs of cosmetic digital retouching, including blurring of wrinkles and age spots, erasing of moles and whitening of teeth," the paper found.
An attorney for the state Senate said the changes made appear to violate the Senate's photo-editing rules, which states "the historical accuracy of a Senate photograph will not be changed or manipulated in any way."
Others who don't care for their new official portrait simply stick with an old one.
With so many pressing issues in Olympia, retouched portraits don't seem like a big deal. But in the big picture, they are. Making models and actors in photos appear flawless is one thing. Official portraits taken for the historical record are another. History demands accuracy, or what's the point? It's hard enough for people to differentiate between what's true and what's not, online. All through its vastness, the Internet is where people feel free to airbrush or embellish the facts, whether it's in photos, on resumes, on social network profiles, dating sites, etc.
Adding to this blurry line is plain wrong. If politicians feel the need to doctor their campaign photos, they can go right ahead. But not so with their official Legislative portrait. And for those egos still on the fence, just ask yourself: What would Abraham Lincoln do? (If he could stop laughing.)

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