Party like it's 1992: Newspaper front-page photos celebrate the other Clinton on Hillary's historic night

Hillary Clinton made history Tuesday night, while Bill's face got the glory at many outlets

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 27, 2016 8:07PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich)
(Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich)

In case you missed it, Tuesday was a pretty big night in American history. For the first time ever, one of the two major parties chose to nominate a woman for President of the United States. At the Democratic National Convention, that watershed moment was marked with a video montage showing all the past presidents — 43 white guys and one African American man — and a symbolic glass-shattering sound as Mrs. Clinton accepted her nomination via video. It was, regardless of how you voted in the primaries or even what you'll do in November, a very big deal. Addressing the crowd, Clinton said, "I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet… If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next."

So naturally, the Wednesday covers of major newspapers all across the country declared the Clinton news on their front pages — quite often with a picture of a different Clinton.

On its cover, the Houston Chronicle declared Wednesday, "With nomination, Clinton makes history." It was accompanied by a photograph of her husband, former president Bill Clinton — who'd given a loving speech about his wife earlier in the evening — waving to the crowd and looking like a man who'd just won something huge. Other papers — including the Chicago Tribune and Sacramento Bee — did likewise. Even when the headlines, like the Sacramento Bee's — noted that "Clinton shatters last political glass ceiling" — they still ran a photo of Mr. Clinton in front of the crowd.

At least the Washington Post managed to mention that it was the female half of the Clinton team's night, running the headline "Historic nomination for Hillary Clinton" — albeit with front page photos of both Bill Clinton and Hillary's recent Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that "Hillary Clinton wins nomination" — but initially ran a photo of Bill before swapping it overnight for Hillary. 

As Vox's Sarah Kliff points out, it's likely true that newspapers, scrambling for images and on tight deadlines, simply grabbed their photos from earlier in the night. And the Journal's Byron Tau pointed out on Twitter Wednesday that a week ago, the paper similarly declared Trump's nomination with a photograph not of the candidate but his children. But let's remember — this was an unprecedented event in American politics. To ignore that a woman achieved something Tuesday that no other woman ever has by omitting her image revealed massive editorial blind spots, all over the place.

And other outlets somehow figured out how to visually convey the spirit of this momentous event. Vox also notes that The New York Times went with an image of exuberant female supporters on the floor, holding a sign that read "Girl Power." And the Chicago Sun Times went a class photo of the nominee. USA Today used an image from Hillary Clinton's video message AND a shot of female supporters on the convention floors. Was that so hard?

You'd think the traditional media would have learned. Eight years ago, when Barack Obama became the first African American presidential nominee, not all newspaper front covers figured out what the correct defining image should be either. If there's a lesson in all of this, it's that pictures aren't worth a thousand words when the picture isn't of what's actually very significant. Back then, the New York Times announced that "Democrats nominate Obama" with a photograph of a white female delegate. And if Secretary Clinton is feeling left out of the spotlight today, she can always recall what happened during the convention in 2008, when the Akron Beacon Journal ran a front page headline that "Cheering delegates choose Obama" — along with a photograph of her.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Barack Obama Bill Clinton Dnc 2016 Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Media