Appearance and politics. The influence the media has in the democratic process. The institutions that continue to have a presence in our daily lives. These are all present regarding the upcoming democratic primary in Providence, Rhode Island. Nirva LaFortune, a current city councilwoman, is opposing Brett Smiley and Gonzalo Cuervo for the upcoming mayoral election.
Last Tuesday’s issue of the Providence Journal (August of 2022) released a front-page story about the pitches the three mayoral candidates made accompanied by photos. Where Smiley and Cuervo’s images are their official, smiling onward-facing headshots, LaFortune’s is an action photo of her from the side, appearing angry, while passionately speaking.
LaFortune tweeted at the Providence Journal, “Oh, how I love opening up the paper and finding a photo of me in mid-sentence looking ‘angry’ but actually speaking passionately about a matter. Why couldn’t I get a headshot photo, similar to the guys?”
Both Smiley and Cuervo spoke up for their competition, calling the use of the image “disappointing” and “inexcusable.” The opposition speaking up for their competitor demonstrates the resilience and passion they have to fight institutionalized racism, specifically in the media.
The discrepancies in the images could be attributed to racism as well as sexism. LaFortune is the only female or person of color candidate in the race of three, making conversations about both issues prominent. LaFortune called the Providence Journal out for racist journalism, stating that the comparison in images is a “prime example of racism in media.”
Cuervo made it known in his tweet that the Providence Journal has a multitude of professional photos that they shot earlier in the cycle. LaFortune also tweeted a professional picture of her, demonstrating the various options the Providence Journal had for their story.
Providence Journal Executive Editor David Ng apologized for the use of the photo in a statement to NBC 10, in which he wrote, “We regret the photo selected for this story and sincerely apologize.”
Whatever the intention behind the photo was, the audience as well as the portrayed candidates understood it as racism. Media plays a prime role in our view of political candidates, and the picture of LaFortune could potentially have a negative effect on her campaign.
LaFortune hopes that this will shed light on the influence the media has in the electoral process and how it is simple to make a candidate look unprofessional. Furthermore, she hopes it demonstrates the importance of the diversity of the community being represented and sharing their experiences. LaFortune released a statement saying: “This was sad and it also shows us the importance of having more people of color, more black women, more black people, brown people, indigenous folks, [and] people who represent the diversity of our community also leading the effort to tell their stories.”