AUSTIN, TX - Texas newspaper readers this morning may have been confused about which way the late Lady Bird Johnson was facing when she was photographed standing in a field of wildflowers, because it ran facing to the left in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the San Antonio Express-News, and facing to the right on the top of The Dallas Morning News.
The Dallas paper is the one that got it right.
Lady Bird Johnson, 94, died Wednesday at her home in suburban Austin of natural causes. Her legacy was to make America more beautiful through the Highway Beautification Bill, urging the conservation of nature, and literacy for children through Head Start.
A correction in the Star-Telegram written by managing editor Larry Lutz says the "flopped" photograph was one they requested from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center. "It's an iconic image that says 'Texas' in no uncertain terms ... the photo has also been on the Center's Web site - that's where we first saw it and that's who sent it to us to publish," he wrote.
"In the digital world, we don't have negatives to check as original source material. In this case, the Center's Web master, a credible source, sent it to us. Often, as in today's case, it's after an editor sees the photo published differently elsewhere that we may wonder if something's not right."
Lutz explained that even while Mrs. Johnson has a ring on what they thought was her left hand, it was later learned that after her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson, died in 1973, she then switched the ring to her right hand.
"When photos are intentionally manipulated - clearly that's not the case here - we consider it unethical and a breach in our credibility," Lutz wrote to readers. "In this case, the photo's still beautiful but it's just not right."
The correction was published on the Star-Telegram's Web site with the headline, "Hold This Photo Up To A Mirror."
At the Express-News, ombudsman Bob Richter told readers that the transparency (color slide) they had on file, which was sent to them several years ago by the Center, was improperly labeled. They decided which way the image faced based on which side the label was on (which was the traditional method for marking slides, prior to the digital era).
Richter wrote that Austin-based photographer Dennis Fagan, who shot the picture, confirmed that the Center had marked the slide wrong and that the Express-News and Star-Telegram's publication of the photo had it backwards.
Looking at the picture after knowing it was backwards, the San Antonio newspaper's ombudsman said, there were some tell-tale clues. Lady Bird's dress is buttoned with the buttons on the right and the buttonholes on the left in the reversed image. In women's clothing, most buttons are on the left and the buttonholes are on the right.
So how did Dallas get it right? "Ken Geiger, the former director of photography, and picture editor Paula Nelson, had the foresight at least five to seven years ago to purchase one-time rights for use of the image knowing that it could eventually become a fitting and beautiful front page memorial photograph," David Leeson at The Dallas Morning News said tonight. "Add to this excellent archiving with proper notations and that explains why we had it right," he said.