This week's covers of Time and Newsweek magazine display the same grim mug shot of O.J. Simpson. But Time has gone reality one better - or worse, according to critics - by electronically manipulating the photo to create a darker and more sinister-looking "photo illustration."
"It's certainly not meant to mislead anyone," Time spokeswoman Nancy Kearney said. "To classify it as intentionally misleading, sinister or racist is irresponsible and insulting to the magazine and the artist."
On the Time cover, Simpson's skin and stubble are darker, and the contours of his face blurred. The background is lightened to dramatize the contrasts.
The mug shot is "a widely distributed public photo that had been used repeatedly, and we just wanted something different on the cover," Kearney said. "We decided to use the mug shot as a basis for the illustration and come up with an image that was a visually compelling element to the overall story."
Time's rivals deplored the practice. "We as a matter of policy do not manipulate news photos," said Merrill McLoughlin, co-editor of U.S. News & World Report. "Had Time alone done it, the public probably would have believed that's exactly what the picture was, and that's what's so scary about electronic manipulation."
John Durniak, former photo editor at Time, Popular Photography and The New York Times, said there can be no exceptions. "You can't fool around with a picture. The minute you touch it, it becomes a false image."
"What they are doing is making a cover that is going to sell; it is merchandising replacing journalism," he said.
Sheila Stainback, a CNBC correspondent and vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists, sees a racial aspect to the photo doctoring. "African Americans are particularly sensitive to complexion," she said. "Why did he have to be darker? I think it plays into the whole menacing-black-male portrayal."
Time Managing Editor Jim Gaines did not respond to a request for comment.
The photo was altered on a computer by freelance artist Matt Mahurin, who said he was "completely shocked by the whole reaction to it" but declined to comment further.
Information from Newsday is included in this report.