Every famous person has an idiot picture. That's the picture that the news trots out to illustrate any story in which they want to make you look like an idiot. And when you are famous, that story always happens. I was reminded of that by seeing Jack Welch's idiot picture on Business Insider.

I'm not picking on Jack. Every famous person has an idiot picture. Here's my idiot picture that appears all over the Internet whenever I am quoted out of context to look like an idiot or a douchebag.

The story behind my idiot picture is that years ago a photographer for Playboy told me to "act" as if I were talking to someone in an animated way. They needed four pictures of that sort to put in series at the bottom of the first page of my interview. I was still a rookie at the publicity game and I played along, making exaggerated faces while gesticulating wildly. Little did I know I was inadvertently posing for my idiot picture that would live on the Internet until the end of time.

Eventually I got smarter about how I allow myself to be photographed. Now when I'm asked to do something that will make me look playful in the right context but a douche bag in the wrong context, I decline the offer.

The key to picking a good idiot picture to accompany a celebrity hit piece is that you need to mismatch the photo to the content. In the Jack Welch photo he was obviously having a good laugh about something, and if you imagine that to be the context he just looks like a fun guy who enjoys people. But if you pair that picture with a story of how he made a probably-wrong-but-not-ridiculous assumption about some job statistics, the same picture makes him look like a wild-eyed loon.

My idiot picture usually gets paired with manufactured stories that use my words out of context to show that I must be a secret creationist, a secret holocaust denier, or a secret hater of all women. I say secret because most of those stories can be summarized this way:

"He didn't say anything we disagree with. But the way he says the things that we totally agree with leads us to believe he has bad thoughts in his head."

On its own, that sort of argument would fall flat. But humans are visual animals, so pairing my idiot picture with a report that I must be thinking idiot thoughts is quite compelling. There can't be that much smoke without fire! If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck!

I worry that when I complain about the news industry manufacturing celebrity news that you think I am imagining it. You might not realize how systematic it is. The idiot picture is one of the most important elements of manufactured celebrity news. Start looking for it and you'll find yourself laughing at those stories from now on instead of believing them at face value.

I'm a big fan of Business Insider and I don't think they got the story wrong about Jack Welch. The story was worth reporting. But was that the fairest picture to accompany it?


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the second-best graduation gift ever.




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May 5, 2014
Any picture someone else takes of me seems to be an idiot picture. I think I look decent from a forward "portrait" angle, but any kind of profile angle looks awful. Strangely, I look lean and muscular from a forward angle, but somehow manage to get pretty flabby from sideways photos.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 5, 2014
My problem is not the existence of idiot pictures, it is the lack of non-idiot pictures. I do not photograph well at any speed.
May 5, 2014
Sorry, I know I'm late to the party, but I didn't see any explanation or comments about the signature line: "Author of the SECOND-best graduation gift ever." Is there a reason it changed? What's the first? Money? Or a different Dilbert item? :D
May 5, 2014
I hope you have a better Playboy story than the idiot picture of you.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
May 4, 2014
No no no no. THIS is your idiot picture:


I have several ones of me, but who cares about that :-)
May 4, 2014
hey! count on cnn to illustrate your point right on cue:


not taking a position on her or Rutgers but this seems like a pretty slam dunk example of what you're saying!
May 4, 2014
I'm reminded of the time when ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was visiting Blackpool Pleasure Beach amusement park and she was adamant she was not to be photographed coming out of the Crazy Horse saloon. Smart cookie that Mrs T.
May 4, 2014
according to my browser search function - there are 2 pages of comment so far, and no mention of the poster-boy for idiot photos - Rob Ford. I mean, besides his crack habit, I assume that to get where he did he has some positive attributes, but all the world knows of him is ....

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/27/rob-ford-ontario-liberals_n_3510927.html (referenced for the photo, I didn't read the article)

now THAT's an idiot photo (poor guy...)
May 3, 2014
I think all the referenced behaviors, sensationalism, insult-by-portrait, etc. are ultimately the result of fading respect for truth in the culture. People used to get shunned and convicted for egregious fantasy told about one in the town square. Heck, some of the 20-somethings that I have asked, say that there exists no objective truth. When pressed, they assert that the underlying reality is that people live inside their heads, not in the observed world. It's like everybody is on their own holodeck and we can see each other, but that we don't see the same world as each other. So, when I see a slander event, it could just be the observed truth seen by the miscreant in his holodeck, so it would not be the-right-thing-to-do to confront them about their evil intent. How can one be objective about information if one does not believe in objectivity, even in principle? It gives them license to act on any opinion.
May 3, 2014
Yes Scot from that picture its obvious you were trying look under a Woman's skirt and your hands are are attempting to inappropriately grope parts or her anatomy. Either that or you were laughing about strangling a Jezebel editor.

+7 Rank Up Rank Down
May 3, 2014

>It's possible that his local Fox affiliate is having technical difficulties.
>Hey, Scott, did you see CliffClaven and Raskolnikov's attacks on me?
>CliffClaven and Raskonikov didn't attack you. They questioned your assertions.

Remember, this blog is different than most of the other blogs out there.

Let's try a little harder to keep it that way.

+23 Rank Up Rank Down
May 3, 2014
Scott: Your post is so eerily, specifically relevant to my former field of work that (again) I simply have to point a few things out:

Your observations in general when it comes to the media's (more specifically the editors') techniques are of course spot on, as always.

But: That is NOT your "real" idiot picture, though I can see how you might not think it's an optimal portrayal of you when coupled with a somewhat hostile article.

I have been to the homes of several celebrities (not in the US -- closer to Elbonia) both as a photographer and as an accompanying writer. You might think that you're controlling the situation by not allowing any ridiculous poses and angles, but the thing is: we don't need you doing jazz hands on a tricycle to make you look like you were frequently dropped on the head as a baby.

If you have made the mistake of breathing, blinking, licking your lips or (god forbid!) opening your mouth even partially to speak while in front of the camera, we've g o t you. This was true even back when we used physical film; after the digital revolution and the introduction of the silent shutter mechanisms you're simply helpless. Unless you somehow wrestle each photographer to the ground and go through the entire camera memory before they leave, there will be between 10 and 100 exposures that each would make your close family deny any relationship to you if published.

At present those Kodak moments are all sleeping quietly at the bottom of dark, dusty (perhaps digital) drawers, dreaming like the great god Cthulhu, ready to awaken the day you hit a female ethnic celebrity in the face on live national TV, are dragged from a white Bronco after a lengthy car chase or get caught hanging around elementary schools with a suspicious amount of candy in your pockets.

I could be much more creepy and specific about my direct involvement with similar cases, but I'll save those for the Press Complaints Commission hearings.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 2, 2014
@Phantom II

CliffClaven and Raskonikov didn't attack you. They questioned your assertions.

Learn to tell the difference.
May 2, 2014
Hey, Scott, did you see CliffClaven and Raskolnikov's attacks on me? That's related to your post on self-censorship. Those two left-wing ideologues would like nothing more than to silence me. But as far as I'm concerned, as I told you, they just lost the argument.

Did they do any research on the amount of mainstream media coverage on the amount of time given by NBC, ABC and CBS to those issues? No. They just attacked me for saying the media didn't cover these issues, which is absolutely true.

As I said, don't live your life for the small minds. I don't, and neither should you.
May 2, 2014
I think this picture is the one that speaks the most highly of you. http://imgur.com/0qcYSkY If a cat loves you enough to lick your face, you must be awesome.
May 2, 2014
I love practical advice like this that I can file away until I become rich and famous. I might even print this out.
May 2, 2014
It's not even a matter of "idiot" photos.

A mug shot or any straight-on deadpan makes you look guilty and faintly inhuman. A file shot of you smiling or laughing can make you look not just guilty and callous in the bargain. And if you or your company are involved in anything grim, cancel any remotely cheerful or lavish public appearances. You don't want to be seen laughing with an expensively-gowned woman the same week the press is covering financial scandals, or the horrible death of some employees.

Sometimes, an obvious glamour shot next to a "real life" image of a rival can play to the latter's advantage. Challengers love to show the incumbent in a stiff official portrait while presenting themselves with the family, meeting folks in shirtsleeves, etc.

And context sometimes kicks in even if the specific story is neutral or even favorable. The photos of Sterling are harmless in themselves, just a nice old coot watching basketball with some younger women in frame. But they become creepy when placed in the context of a married man giving his mistress crazy-old-man orders. And is there any possible photo of Woody Allen that's not going to take on baggage?

Ironically, some public figures (or their handlers) bring it on themselves. Nixon's staff famously arranged a major photo op of Nixon walking on the beach, meant to evoke similar imagery of JFK. But they also put him in suit, tie and black shoes to appear "presidential", so the resulting photos could only reinforce the cold, uptight image.

In the same vein, a reporter recalled an Oval Office event where Nixon was welcoming a group of blind visitors. He was describing the rug with the Great Seal and one of the guests got down on his knees to feel the rug. Intrigued, Nixon knelt next to him, closed his eyes and trying to experience what the guest was. Photographers jumped to get a rare humanizing shot, but staffers blocked them -- Nixon's tie was dangling and he didn't look "presidential."

Of course, it's all academic in a world when images can be snapped anywhere and disseminated instantly.
May 2, 2014
CliffClaven asked Phantom II: Where is this planet where Bengazi, the IRS and Fast and Furious have dropped from sight?

It's possible that his local Fox affiliate is having technical difficulties.

May 2, 2014
Phantom II:

Where is this planet where Bengazi, the IRS and Fast and Furious have dropped from sight?

And by the way, it seems that the right-wingers are the ones who most often link their opponents with anti-Christian and anti-American forces.

You do better when batting around debt numbers and such. You sound almost plausible.
May 2, 2014
I, for one, don't think that picture is all that bad. It might be the juxtaposition with the Dilbert character behind you that makes it seem that way, but think of how much worse it would have been if it looked like you were talking to the character. Now THAT would have made you look like a loon.

Actually, news is manufactured all the time. The days of honest journalism are well behind us. It's not so much in the reporting, it's in how the news is reported. I recall hearing a veteran newscaster talk about how he had learned the power of the raised eyebrow. He said that you can report a news story in a positive light, and then make it seem like the story is completely bogus, just by raising your eyebrow questioningly as you finish the report.

Then, there's the infamous spike. Just don't report the story, and it goes away. Like Bengazi. And the IRS scandal. And Fast and Furious.

And then there's the famous weighted average report. It goes something like this: "Today, Democrats accused House Republicans of being the spawn of the Devil. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi revealed that she had proof Republicans are controlled by Satan, and that they are determined to destroy everything that is good in America and the world. Senate majority leader Harry Reid concurred, adding that 'Republicans are obviously possessed by demons. Their actions show that all the forces of goodness need to be aligned against them.' Republicans replied that this is not true."

Now, you see, you can't accuse the pretend talking head above of not being fair. They gave both sides of the story.

So there you have it. There's nothing new here. People will always try to spin the news, and he who controls the media controls the minds of the low-information crowd. There's nothing we can do about it except change the channel. And, if you see where ratings are for mainstream media newscasts, you'll see that that's happening a lot. Not to mention newspaper subscription falloffs.
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