On the heels of her re-election as House minority leader, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi has already landed herself in a bit of hot water.
It isn’t over a controversial vote or legislative negotiation, though, but rather from an effort to preserve the historical record by, well, kind of making it up. On Thursday, the opening day of the 113th Congress, Pelosi’s staff orchestrated a photo shoot of all the House Democratic women. The photo the office released to the public, however, wasn’t the same photo taken earlier in the day.
What’s being sold as the “official” shot actually constitutes two pictures meshed together: the original group portrait of 58 lawmakers with four late-arrivals photo-edited into the back row to appear they were there the whole time.
Really, the stragglers – Florida Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Corrine Brown, and Reps. Yvette Clarke of New York and Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas – posed together in a separate photograph, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill explained. They arrived for the photo shoot on the Capitol steps just as their colleagues were dispersing.
Here's the group shot captured by our own CQ Roll Call photographer:
And here's the version being distributed by Pelosi's office:
Hammill told photo editors late on Thursday that the picture had had a bit of work done to it, though didn’t specify who the Photoshopped members were and didn’t include the disclaimer elsewhere. The photo stands alone on Pelosi's Flickr page, accompanied by the caption: "This photo was taken on January 3, 2013 using a Nikon D3S."
Eventually, the media took notice. Blogs began to post “before” and “after” photos, and reporters questioned Pelosi at her Friday morning media briefing about whether she found these methods questionable or troubling. After all, photos are supposed to be records of what happened, not what might have happened if a few people had shown up on time.
“It was an accurate historical record of who the Democratic women of Congress are,” Pelosi insisted. “It was an accurate reflection of who the 61 Democratic women members are. And not only are they women but they reflected the beautiful diversity of our country.
“It also is an accurate record that it was freezing cold and our Members had been waiting a long time … and had to get back into the building to greet constituents, family members, to get ready to go to the floor. It wasn’t like we had the rest of the day to stand there.”
Reacting to suggestions that this represents some malicious effort to suppress reality or the historical record, Hammill pointed out that even had this been the intention, it wouldn't have been possible: There were lots of photographers there from media outlets, and even bystanders on their cellphones could have snapped a photo if they wanted to that showed a different configuration of lawmakers present.
Jonathan Strong contributed to this report.