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The Shining

When lawmakers tackle Web cams, it’s time to watch out!

February 11, 2009, 12:00 am

There is no such thing as a neutral camera. The moment a choice is made as to how you frame a shot, you’re making a statement. Is it close-up? Is it wide? Is the light flattering? Do you include the guy at the end of the frame picking his nose? Every choice that you make denies the possibility of being neutral. —Jonathan Wacks, chairman of the Moving Image Arts program at the College of Santa Fe

A 1995 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that 91 percent of 254 participants pick their noses. Forty-three percent admitted they pick their noses in public.

Apply the math to the Legislature and you’ve got 48 elected officials who can be caught on camera picking their noses.

Legislators did not specifically reference rhinotillexis (nose picking in clinician-speak) in their concerns over Web casting. But lawmakers repeatedly expressed general concern about video being used against them for political purposes.

Anyone who thinks video isn’t a weapon should remember Democrat Howard Dean or Republican George Allen, both of whom lost races after videos of slipups went viral. As far as nose picking goes: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was caught doing it between espresso shots at a café and US Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was captured digging deep while standing behind Barack Obama during a campaign speech.

Throughout the debates over Web cams, two distinct camps emerged among legislators: One group, mostly Republican, adamantly argued for immediate implementation of a live stream. The other group, mostly Democrats, said they weren’t opposed to the idea, per se, as long as protective measures were implemented.

As Luján put it during the first rules committee: “We need to make sure there are the necessary safeguards, that there is openness and transparency in a manner not to embarrass or use for political purpose against a single member on either side of the aisle.”

But it was Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan, who laid it out plainly: “If I’m sleeping and I’m being recorded…it could be used for political gain by my opponent!”

The media has been embarrassing legislators for decades. Fifteen years after the fact, Stapleton is still furious at a KOAT channel 7 for using a still of her eating a sandwich on the floor. Gardner was perturbed last year when, during the special session, a daily paper ran a picture of him hunched over in pain during floor hearings. It wasn’t the state budget making him dyspeptic, as the caption implied, but a kidney stone. Rep. Al Park, D-Bernalillo, admits he has fallen asleep during those late-night debates toward the end of the session. Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Bernalillo, even has a strategy: Turn your back to the press gallery, then grab a few winks.

Begaye’s comment became the sound bite of the issue and the state Republican Party jumped on it, delivering mugs, coffee and creamer to Democratic members of the rules committee with the message, “WAKE UP! Vote YES on HR 2. Vote yes on transparency.”

Although Arnold-Jones decided not to attend any of the meetings, she stood up for Begaye, first excoriating the state party over the telephone then later telling constituents during her weekly Saturday open house that the press had mischaracterized his statement.

On the matter of partisan video, Arnold-Jones insists on her Web site: “Nothing shown or recorded on the Web cast will be used for political purposes or campaigns.” Martinez suggested her phrasing should serve as a guideline during rule making.

But no matter what rule is written, the camera will always be kinder to some politicians than others, Sundance and Academy award-winning filmmaker Wacks tells SFR.

“[If you mounted] a camera in one position in which it would always be the same, you could make the argument that that was neutral,” Wacks says. “But it depends on whether Ben Luján is sitting in the middle of the shot, whether he’s nicely lit, but [Rep.] Lucky Varela [D-Santa Fe] has a dark shadow. You can say it’s neutral, but a choice has been made.“

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