Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why Is This Man Smiling?

[[C R I M E]] * If you haven’t spotted this photo somewhere on the Web already, you just haven’t been paying attention. It’s the mug shot taken Thursday of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), after he turned himself in at a Harris County Sheriff’s Department facility in Houston, Texas. There, the Republican strongman was fingerprinted, photographed and hauled before a judge, before he was finally allowed to post bail in the amount of $10,000. As you’ll recall, DeLay is under indictment by a grand jury in Austin, charged with conspiracy and money laundering related to the dispersal of $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions. The allegation--which DeLay denies--is that his principal political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) accepted that money, then flushed it through the Republican National Committee in order that it could be distributed among GOP candidates for the Texas Legislature in 2002. Lone State law prohibits such use of corporate funds by political campaigns. If convicted, DeLay could spend the rest his life in prison (not that anyone expects he will).

Meanwhile, get ready to see a whole lot more of DeLay’s mug shot. As The Hotline’s Marc Ambinder observes, “In nationalized midterm elections, images matter. (Remember the juxtaposition of Sen. Max Cleland and Osama Bin Laden?)” And you can be damn certain that Democrats will be nationalizing the 2006 midterm races, the same way Republicans did so successfully back in 1994. So in coming months you will find DeLay’s booking shot plastered across TV screens and billboards, as Democrats make the case, summarized quite well in this week’s New Yorker, that “the White House and Congress have handed government over to corrupt interests, and, in so doing, the Republicans have betrayed basic American principles of honesty, competence, and fairness.” DeLay, in other words, has become the poster boy for the GOP’s “culture of corruption.”

It’s only unfortunate, for those purposes, that DeLay’s mug shot doesn’t also show him in profile, draped with or holding identifying numbers, such as the old mug shots of John Dillinger and others. And that peculiarity has caused folks to wonder whether this smiling image of the former majority leader is an authentic mug shot. According to Slate’s typically wonderful “Explainer” column, the answer is yes.
[A]dvances in technology have made mug shots pretty much indistinguishable from normal photographs. During the last decade or so, most state and federal bond offices have made their entire booking process digital. (For one, most jurisdictions no longer take fingerprints using an ink pad but use biometric scans instead.) Mug shots now typically get taken with a digital camera. The accused’s personal identification number (those digits that used to appear on a placard in front of the arrestee’s torso) and other data like gender, eye color, and birth date, get recorded on the side of the photo. (You can see DeLay and his booking information in this uncropped version of the photo.)

Photographing criminals in profile was once considered essential. But since the advent of digital photography, the profile shot has become less common. (Practices vary from state to state, but Texas now takes only frontal pictures.) A side-angle photo once helped officers to identify criminals who tried to disguise themselves, as it’s more difficult to alter your profile than your face-forward appearance. However, now that computer programs are used to compare photographs instead of the naked eye, profile shots aren’t as useful.
The scandalized DeLay made his first appearance in an Austin criminal court on Friday to answer the charges brought against him by a grand jury, assembled by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Almost immediately, however, the proceedings were halted, after Republican DeLay’s lawyer claimed that the judge in this case should recuse himself because he’s given money in the past to Democratic candidates for office. Expect to see the defense continue in the future to complain that DeLay is the victim of a partisan vendetta, led by Earle, a Democrat, despite the DA’s long history of prosecuting influential Democrats as aggressively as he has Republicans.

READ MORE:DeLay’s Arrest Warrant,” by Bob Geiger (Yellow Dog Blog); “I’m at Your Service, Mr. DeLay,” by Garrison Keillor (Salon); “Tom DeLay and the Bridge to Nowhere” (The New York Times).

1 comment:

Hypoxic said...

Don't let the smile fool you. Look in those eyes. There is fear there.