I had long intended to write a post on the issues thrown up by the Max Mosley case. Basically I was going to ask the readers of the post to help me come up with a principled justification for thinking what I do think, namely that the News of the World did not have the right to sneak a camera into Mosley’s commercial sex session and yet the New York Times did have the right to expose Elliot Spitzer’s commercial sex session. “Private citizen versus politician” looked like it was giving me the answer I wanted, but the post kept off veering into the issue of the implied contract of confidentiality between prostitute and client. As it happens, Spitzer was not betrayed by his prostitute but what if he had been?
I strongly disapprove of adultery. I disapprove, though much less strongly, of fornication. (I confess that I take a certain transgressive pleasure in writing that last sentence on Samizdata.) I strongly approve of people having the political right to commit adultery and fornicate, including the right to employ prostitutes or be a prostitute. Did I really want an outcome whereby a person became fair game for being spied upon and betrayed simply because he was a politician?
Then along came this Jill Greenberg thing and made me want, no burn, to write an almost completely different post. Shame to waste a good title, though.
Some readers may be angered by my comparison of Senator McCain trusting a photographer to deal with him honestly with Mr Mosley trusting the prostitutes to deal with him honestly. There is no need to be offended. If the thought of the shabby treatment that Mosley suffered made me uneasy, the thought of the treatment that McCain suffered made me… let me find words… made me finally start to want him to win.
I had long thought I ought to want him to win. After all, the policies pursued by the President of the United States have an effect beyond that country, and if Senator Obama becomes President he will pursue policies of socialism and appeasement. Yet I had never warmed to McCain. Yes, I respected his courage. Yes, I appreciated his wisdom in choosing a reasonable person with some knowledge of the world to be his running mate rather than a man who thought it might be a good response to the attacks of September 11 2001 to send a no-strings-attached cheque for two hundred million dollars to Iran because he thought the Iranians were Arabs and the Arabs needed to feel reassured. But no, all these sensible arguments were not enough to get me over the barrier of the McCain-Feingold restrictions on free speech, and other discontents.
It may not be sensible, it may wear off, but today this was enough:
She delivered the image the magazine asked for—a shot that makes the Republican presidential nominee look heroic. Greenberg is well known for her highly retouched images of bears and crying babies. But she didn’t bother to do much retouching on her McCain images. “I left his eyes red and his skin looking bad,” she says.
After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to “please come over here” for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There, she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. “That’s what he thought he was being lit by,” Greenberg says. “But that wasn’t firing.”
What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast the horror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. “He had no idea he was being lit from below,” Greenberg says. And his handlers didn’t seem to notice it either. “I guess they’re not very sophisticated,” she adds.
The thought of the sophisticated little simper with which she must have said those words reached clear across the Atlantic Ocean and put me in a rage. I do hope it has the same effect, only more so, on many Americans, and particularly on American swing voters. Part of the reason I hope this is that the affair is unlikely to do Ms Greenberg any net harm with the other sophisticates she hangs out with: any loss of custom from her respectable clients (such as the unfortunate Atlantic magazine) is likely to be more than compensated by the prospect of, as the late Bernard Levin once said of the British counterparts of Greenberg and her circle, “every poodlefaker in the business swooning, cheering and commissioning.” So the only way I can envisage her paying a price is to hope that she will at least experience chagrin at the thought of her role in the election of President McCain.
I may not get my way. The odds, they say, are even. Yet what a fool Greenberg is to tempt fate when the contest is indeed so close, and what fools are the substantial numbers of commenters to early reports of the story who supported her action. Do they really not see that when they mock McCain for trusting Greenberg they suggest that people like them are not to be trusted? That when they boast of having manipulated the media they confirm that they do manipulate the media? Do they not see that when they fault McCain or the Atlantic for being so naive as to employ a Democrat as photographer, they give the voters reason to believe that they might be naive to employ a Democrat as President?
In this post I have twice admitted to non-respectable habits of thought. In the case of Mosley and Spitzer I had decided upon my opinion first and only then looked for reasons to justify it. In the case of McCain and Greenberg I wished for the most powerful office in the world to be filled by one man rather than another merely to make a spiteful woman sorry. Stuff it, I bet most people think like that most of the time, and sometimes I think that these instinctive decisions have the silent sum of many unconscious observations behind them.