There was a minor controversy this week directed toward The New York Times over its front page photo of the memorial gathering at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Thousands of people marched across that bridge this past Saturday paying their respects to the civil rights protesters who were beaten down by Alabama State Troopers fifty years earlier as they tried to march across the bridge in support of voting rights for all Americans.
The Times front page photo captured the mass of the marchers as well as those who were front row center: Michelle and Barack Obama on either side of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon who was among those seriously beaten in the original march that became known as "Bloody Sunday." Also in the photo were Obama's mother-in-law and two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Former President and First Lady George and Laura Bush were themselves at the memorial march, and apparently on the front row as well, but their images were not included in the Times photo - causing some to claim with great indignation that the Bushes had been cropped out by the venerable Grey Lady with malice aforethought.
The editor of the New York Times has denied that the slight toward the former first couple was intentional. The newspaper's story is that the Bushes were well away from the central focus of the shot, and they were standing in the sun. Apparently the sunlight washed out George Bush's image and left it of less quality than the Times likes to print.
That's a plausible story, but I still find it sad that if G.W. mastered the personal courage to go to Selma and walk into that sea of people clamoring for civil and voting rights, the image depicting his personal fortitude could not have made its way into the nation's newspaper. Going to Selma could not have been easy for George and Laura.
I remember well how uncomfortable he looked at Coretta Scott King's funeral back in 2006. As the sitting President, George Bush basically had no choice but to show up, and he had no choice but to share the stage with the three ex-presidents who were also there - his father, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. The crowd was much more enthusiastic toward Clinton and Carter than it was toward the two Bush presidents, and George Bush, the younger, had to sit in polite silence as other speakers lobbed remarks about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and the domestic spying program - one that was similar to what old J. Edgar Hoover had used against Mrs. King's husband.
And Bill Clinton shaking the church foundations as he thundered "There's a woman in that box!"
George Bush left Atlanta that day looking less presidential than perhaps any other time during his eight years in the White House.
But now, nearly a decade later, Private Citizen Bush mans up, goes to Selma, and marches for civil rights. It was a bold act, very presidential - and it's a damned shame that The New York Times couldn't have found some way to capture and preserve his better-late-than-never commitment to the cause.
You did good, George. Now how about coming out with a full-throated support of voting rights in the current political environment? Your country needs you - now more than ever!