Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Times conveys O'Connor's career with a clever graphic

The New York Times devoted almost all the top half of page 1 on Saturday to Justice O'Connor's resignation. Everyone has written about how pivotal her role is, how often she has been the swing vote in a 5-4 decision. In a way, that means she was the most powerful justice on the court during her tenure. Given that you know how a Clarence Thomas will vote, he has no power, unless he can persuade someone else on the court who actually thinks.

But The Times did more than just write about O'Connor: they spent 1/4 of the front page on a clever graphic that used photos of justices, with O'Connor's portrait always in the center, depicting her central role in major decisions during her tenure.

A good graphic is worth a 1000 words, maybe much more. This graphic says "pivotal" and "swing" better than many words of grey lady prose. (Please click for enlarged version.)

Replace Rehnquist with a right-winger, and you haven't changed things much. Replace O'Connor with a right-winger, and 5-4 takes a sudden shift to the right. This graphic makes that clear, and the person at The Times who conceived of it should be proud.

Note that only O'Connor appears in color in the photo montage. Also a clever touch.

My only quibbles: Should they have used contemporary photos for the earlier decisions? The Times is pretty good about trying to use photos of people in their primes in obituaries. They show contemporary photos of others in the 1980s; why not her? And might there be a less dowdy file photo for the main image they chose?

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