Three Categories of Racial Profile Images

Three types of photographs–illustration, portraiture and documentary–are used to depict racial profiling. In this post we’ll analyze several photos to ascertain what category of photojournalism was used to represent content. Then we’ll discuss the ethics of such use.

In the video above, the Columbia School of Journalism used data science to gather evidence of law enforcement identifying people of color as white so as not to be accused of profiling. This investigation sets the stage for the discussion of a sensitive topic and the various types of photos used to depict it.

The chart below depicts three types of photos–documentary, portraiture and illustration.

Photochart_FinalIllustration

This category is a rendition or facsimile of reality–an event, topic, incident or person(s)–composed with art, graphics, set-up images, rehearsed scenes, montages or a combination of design elements to showcase content. Book covers typically use illustrations, in this case, to represent a work about racial profiling by author Alison Marie Behnke.

CNN used this montage for a report on racial profiling

Portraiture

As the term indicates, this genre of photography captures the face–and, yes, profile–of a person. Do not confuse this type of photo with a headshot used to identify a person in a news release, employee badge, passport, driver’s license and so forth. Portraiture is a serious attempt to capture a feeling, mood or character trait–in the same manner that a title or headline does in an article–to imbue content with another layer of meaning. Portraiture can have elements of illustration to depict a scheduled event or of documentary to set the stage for content to follow.

Here is a portrait of Dr. Eric Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown University, to showcase a talk at Hanover College about racial profiling.

In the file photo below, the San Diego Tribune captured this portrait of a woman attending a racial profiling city hall meeting. Note: Technically, this was a documentary photo that was used as portraiture, showcasing the utility of this kind of shot. 

Racial profiling was the subject of this San Diego city council committee hearing in 2014.

Documentary

A documentary photo depicts action as in an incident, spot news or other unrehearsed snippet of reality which, when viewed by itself, represents the story.

Some documentary photos have elements of illustration if the event is planned, as in a protest or parade. (The prototype of a planned or staged event is a donor handing a check to a charity.) Here is an example from AP photographer Seth Wenig in Boston at a march to highlight the issue of racial profiling. The march was planned with Rev. Al Sharpton at the forefront.

Some documentary shots have elements of portraiture as in this example by MSNBC photographer Zun Lee of Michael Brown’s mother at a memorial in Ferguson for her shooting-victim son.

Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, visits her son’s memorial at the Canfield Green Apartment complex in Ferguson on Oct. 10, 2014. The memorial burned down on Sep. 23 but was rebuilt immediately.

Documentary also captures events or incidents as they happen, as in this photo of stop and frisk by Pearl Gable for the Wall Street Journal.

Ethics in Three Genres

DOCUMENTARY ETHICS

The ethics of photos depicting sensitive or controversial topics, such as racial profiling, requires us first to understand the specific categories and their uses. Errors happen when photographers set up photos as in an illustration but then pass them off as documentary.  Even a slight alteration can result in firing offense. In the photo below, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer deleted a video camera and replaced it with terrain. The Associated Press discovered the alternation and ended its relationship with him.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer banned by AP after photo alteration

Documentary photos can be used as illustration or portraiture, depending on the shot. These photos are meant to depict the world as it really is. That is why any alternation is suspect.

An infamous use of a documentary photo involved this shot of fans at the Wisconsin football game.

Capture2

Because documentary photos can be used as illustrations, the University of Wisconsin decided to alter this and add the image of an African-American student, Diallo Shabazz, and to its catalog cover:

Capture1

Shabazz sued the university, asking for millions to be used to recruit students of color. You can read about it here.

PORTRAITURE ETHICS

Portraiture involves several layers of ethics. The person depicted needs to know how the photo is to be used and, often, has to sign a permission contract if the portrait is used for commercial gain. Nothing is as potentially embarrassing in portraiture as identifying the person by the wrong name, as happened with Noor Tagouri in Vogue. In the photo below, Tagouri (right), a 24-year-old Libyan-American journalist, was misidentified by an editor as Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36.

ILLUSTRATION ETHICS

Of all the genres of photography, the one with the biggest potential for misinterpretation is illustration, primarily because the creation often reflects the values of the designer. In this widely criticized illustration in the now-defunct magazine, Mademoiselle, the cutline reads: “A person’s worst nightmare–getting brutally mugged–and left to fend for yourself.” The setup shows two men of color, often maligned as criminals, in what many labeled a damaging stereotypical depiction.

Mademoiselle

Unique Genre

Finally a word about a distinct category of photography: arrest photos. In the KXAN video at the start of this post, this illustration–a compilation of persons identified as white in police mugshots–was used to represent the Columbia School of Journalism investigation.

Mugshots are a combination of portraiture (as the person’s headshot is being taken) and documentary (as the person is being booked for a crime). As such, this illustration montage cover has elements of all three genres.

Keep in mind that mugshots often have been used stereotypically to depict African-Americans. Studies show that mugshots are used more often for black suspects than white suspects. The extent of the stereotype was so great that EJ Brown created an art display titled Perception of Complexion’s “Mugshot Series” featuring graduation shots of black men holding police identification boards with their majors.

Think Like a Journalist: How to tell real from fake news

Originally published in 2009 in News Trust, a non-profit news network. Updated March 2020.

People who care about truth differentiate between journalism and media. Journalists report, produce, design and edit news. Media disseminates content via digital technology (i.e. tweets, posts, blogs, video apps, websites, etc.). Reporters and editors adhere to ethical standards. Social media does not.

Journalists have one core responsibility, thanks to America’s founders, especially Ben Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson: Inform citizens so that they can make intelligent choices in the voting booth. When voters no longer believe what they read, view or hear, they get the governments they deserve. Founders affirmed this tenet in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We have a choice, not only in the voting booth, but also what we decide to believe and share on social media. We can embrace lies, exaggerations, half-truths and falsehood, or subscribe (pay something) to access fact-based reports.

According to Forbes magazine, trustworthy outlets include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BBC, The Economist, The New Yorker, Associated Press, Reuters, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic and Politico.

By reviewing this pamphlet, you’ll begin to think like a journalist. That’s the first step in restoring truth at home, school and work. You’ll distinguish news from opinion, become familiar with journalism principles and ethics, and sharpen your critical judgment.

Start by viewing this 2016 video (still relevant today) with NBC-affiliate anchor Dan Winters, WHOtv, and Michael Bugeja. (Note: Dr. Bugeja’s title now is distinguished professor of journalism; he no longer directs the Greenlee School.)


The Four Defining Traits (“Four Ds”) of Journalism

The best way to learn news literacy is to think like a journalist.

Reporters have distinct traits that either led them to the profession or that they developed while doing journalism.

The “Four Ds”–defining tenets–exemplify these qualities:

  1. Doubt — a healthy skepticism that questions what you hear, view or read.
  2. Detect — a “nose for news” and relentless pursuit of facts and accuracy. 
  3. Discern — a priority for fairness, balance and objectivity in reporting.
  4. Demand — a focus on free access to information and First Amendment principles.

Doubt — Don’t automatically believe everything you view, hear or see.

If you have studied or practiced journalism, you’re probably reading this to see where, if at all, this guide goes astray. That’s part of a journalist’s profile—a healthy skepticism that questions everything, including issues in which they fervently believe.

Reporters who lack skepticism are easily hoaxed or manipulated. A hoax is a bogus story meant to embarrass the journalist and his or her media outlet. The popular phrase for hoax is “fake news.”

There is nothing new about fake news. Media manipulation has existed since Colonial times in America. The new element, however, is the decline of fact-based journalism to balance the impact of fake news and the omnipresent prevalence of social media, which treats each post according to the platform’s algorithms. As such, we are inundated with false reports.

On what do fake news and hoaxes depend? Answer: Your deeply held beliefs, convictions, fears and desires.

Think about something in which you passionately believe—the truth about climate change, pro-life vs. pro-choice, liberals vs. conservatives—and then imagine a tipster confirming your worst suspicions.

A non-journalist might take the bait, praising the font of fake news; however, a seasoned reporter would interrogate the source knowing how dissemination of false information not only undermines his or her credibility, but that of the entire media outlet.

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • Do I seek information or affirmation?
  • Are my beliefs, convictions, fears or desires coloring how I see a topic?
  • What is the difference between skepticism and pessimism?

Detect — Relentlessly pursue the truth to discover the “big picture.”

Journalists have a “nose for news.” They hunt down stories. They follow up on all tips and leads. They are relentless when pursuing the truth.

Reporters share a lot of character traits with detectives who assemble a puzzle piece by piece, or fact by fact, until they see the “big picture.”

Reporters also pursue sources as detectives pursue suspects, giving them their day in court—the court of public opinion, that is.

Of course, not all sources are suspects. Those who aren’t should be expert witnesses because they are either authorities on a topic or have experienced an event first-hand.

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • How can I use the Internet like a detective in verifying assertions?
  • What is the difference between verification in news and assertion in a post?
  • Does the public have a right to know the news that affects or afflicts them?

Discern — Think critically to find a fair balance.

Journalists think critically. They often tell sources that they will contact them again with more questions about a topic or event.

Meanwhile, they are discerning how to balance a story so that it is fair to all parties. They want their stories to be balanced so that their reports are as objective as possible.

Let’s define those terms:

  • Fairness means making sure all viewpoints are included in a story. Reporters discern which viewpoints are more important than others in conveying the truth about a topic or event. If some facts detract from that truth, or are unfair, ethical journalists leave them out or call them out, correcting misstatements.
  • Balance doesn’t mean getting two equal sides of a story. It means discerning which side is more accurate and then gathering facts to make that case by detecting motives of sources and getting expert opinion to support or refute them.
  • Objectivity means seeing the world as it is, not as the reporter or reader would like it to be.  Reporters discern whether they have any biases that might taint a story and, if so, how they might adjust for that when filing a report.

Did you know that the Columbia Journalism Review prefers Dr. Bugeja’s definition of objectivity above others?

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • How do I feel when viewing news that omits a viewpoint or hypes another?
  • Is the news or opinion politically or personally motivated, slanting truth to manipulate rather than inform?
  • When I see a “hole” in a story missing viewpoints or sources how can I fill it with facts using online resources?

Demand — Uphold and protect the free flow of information.

The best reporters make demands—on themselves and others.

The most basic demand is for freedom of information. Reporters believe if taxpayers fund a project or function, citizens should have access to details and documents. They believe that when elected politicians meet, the public should be informed in advance, an agenda should be provided, minutes should be taken, and time for public testimony allotted.

You don’t need to be a journalist to file a freedom of information request. Click here to see the process.

Journalists demand that their and citizens’ Constitutional rights are protected, especially the five freedoms of the First Amendment: speech, press, religion, petition and assembly.

The best journalists demand high ethical standards in their own work and in that of others associated with such topics as:

  • Plagiarism (passing off someone else’s work as their own). Invention (fabricating data and quotations in a story). Both are firing offenses in journalism. Not so in social media.
  • Good taste (deleting offensive language, slurs and stereotypes from reports). Editors spend hours on some reports, deciding what to disseminate. Not so in social media.
  • Conflicts of interest (reporting on issues for personal gain). Another firing offense in journalism. Not so in social media.
  • The common good (doing the least harm). Editors decide what to share to protect innocent others. Not so in social media.

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • What are the rights in the Bill of Rights?
  • How does freedom of information ensure transparency?
  • What role do media ethics play in ensuring quality journalism?

News vs. Opinion

Now that you are thinking like a journalist, one more thing to keep in mind is the difference between news and opinion:

  • News  informs. Opinion persuades.
  • News is based on multiple  viewpoints. Opinion is based on singular viewpoints.
  • News believes the facts speak for themselves. Opinion believes informed arguments do.
  • News is objective and impersonal. Opinion is subjective and personal.

News formats include:

  • News Report — disseminating facts the public needs to know.
  • News Analysis — interpreting issues and events objectively and impersonally.
  • Special Report — focusing in-depth on an issue, newsmaker or event.
  • Breaking News — covering news events as they happen.
  • Investigative Reporting — disclosing data, documents, and testimony.
  • Poll — surveying the public about issues, newsmakers, attitudes and events.

Opinion formats include:

  • Opinion — a stance about an issue, newsmaker or event.
  • Editorial — the voice of an entire publication, such as a newspaper or television station.
  • Interview — questions and answers featuring a newsmaker or source.
  • Speech — spoken remarks by a newsmaker or source.
  • Comment — statement or post about issues, newsmakers, attitudes and events.

Remember to think like a journalist — so you can make more informed decisions as a citizen. Call out false statements or information on social media and direct friends and family to a trusted news source. Consider learning more about journalism and technology so that you can be a conscientious news consumer.

Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of journalism at Iowa State University of Science and Technology, is the author of Living Media Ethics (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine (Oxford Univ. Press)

Easy ethics, hard choices

Former president John Quincy Adams. (Submitted photo)

By MICHAEL BUGEJA, Copyright 2020 Iowa Capital Dispatch

Few things in life come with clear, concise and reliable instructions.

Babies do not; they arrive without warning, and you need a library to raise them. Instructions change with each generation. All self-help genres — how to marry, divorce, get well, get rich, get smart, eat better, stay fit — require new editions.

That is not the case with ethics. Want to live them? Here’s how:

  • Distinguish between good and bad, outcomes over which we have little control, versus right and wrong, choices over which we have much control.
  • Foresee short-term versus long-term consequences before making choices.
  • Accept responsibilities for choices, no matter if the outcome is good or bad.
  • See the world as it is rather than through personal filters of self-interest, ego or fear.
  • Apply only as much power as needed to resolve a challenge without creating greater problems or harm to innocent others.

The instructions are ancient. They come from on high, as in the Delphi oracle — where Apollo’s minions gave self-help — and on low, in Plato’s cave. The sages knew them in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

If you live by these instructions, you become a “superior” human being, at least according to the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC): “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”

Kind of resonates today, huh?

Perhaps no American leader understood ethics more than John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States and son of President John Adams. He tried to do the right thing, promoting human rights, fighting slavery, avoiding war, and affirming natural law — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

His motto was: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone.” So of course he was a one-time president (1825-29).

Nevertheless, he continued his public service as a member of the House of Representatives where he served from 1831 until his death in 1848.

His greatest moment did not happen in the White House but in 1841 as a defense attorney in the Supreme Court. It involved an international incident that ended up on the U.S. shore. Case law here was still evolving, and this one involved slavery.

According to the 1840 census, the U.S. population was 17,069,453, including 2,487,355 slaves, or almost 15% of the country.

Odds were against him.

Some 53 kidnapped Africans on the Spanish slave ship Amistad broke free and killed some crew members, demanding to be returned to their homeland. The crew instead took them to New England, where they were taken into custody.

Adams argued on behalf of the Africans in United States v. The Amistad. He based his defense on the concept of right and wrong. The Africans’ rebellion was justified, he stated, because they had a natural right to be free. They fought for liberty just as Americans did in the Revolution.

According to the court transcript, Adams said:

“When the Amistad first came within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, acts of violence had passed between the two parties, the Spaniards and Africans on board of her, but on which side these acts were lawless, on which side were the oppressors, was a question of right and wrong.”

And he won the case.

Adams foresaw the civil war before any of his contemporaries. He knew that doing the right thing could end in bad outcomes. In his inaugural address, he acknowledged the challenge of embracing “a Constitution founded upon the republican principle of equal rights,” human rights, justice, “the purity” of elections and “inviolate” freedoms of the press and religious affiliation.

We confront those very issues to this day.

Ethics are easy when nothing is at stake. So much is at stake in the current political environment, including student debt, health care costs, poverty, race relations, climate change, drug addiction, global trade, immigration and budget deficits.

Elected officials may know right from wrong but too often make easy choices in their own self-interest, ignoring long-term consequences and blaming their opponents when outcomes are bad. In doing so, they create greater problems.

That is old news.

We may not be able to solve our continuing problems to everyone’s satisfaction. But we do have instructions on how to do that, if not by our collective vote than by our choices at home, school and work.

We have to live our ethics every day, or they lapse and we relapse. Responsibility takes effort. There are always consequences and new problems. “Try and fail,” John Quincy Adams said, “but don’t fail to try.”

That’s all we can ask of ourselves and our loved ones.

(Michael Bugeja is the author of “Living Media Ethics” and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.”  He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”)

Deadly Censorship: China and Coronavirus

Whistlerblower physician Li Wenliang who warned the world about the deadly coronavirus and was punished by police for spreading rumors, died of the disease in Wuhan Central Hospital. He was hailed a hero on the mircoblogging site Weibo, which carried the hashtag #IWantFreedomOfSpeech (now banned). His case shows the dangers of a world without journalism.

In the wake of his death, The Guardian reported “outrage and frustration felt across China over the initial cover-up of the deadly virus.” Some 1.5 billion Weibo users alone expressed their anger and grief on how Dr. Li had been treated.

According to the Guardian, Li was one of eight people detained for spreading rumors about the dangerous disease, with “the fates of the other seven, also believed to be medical professionals,” still unknown.

Government censorship not only silences truth but also often counters with propaganda and misinformation to minimize the impact on policy and national image. An example occurred with the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in then Soviet Ukraine, which threatened all of Europe. To this day, the death toll from the meltdown has yet to be disclosed but has been estimated between 4,000 and 27,000 people.

The New York Times has reported that China had 20,438 confirmed cases of the disease as of early February. During the SARS outbreak, at this time, it had 5,327 cases.

A pandemic risks the lives of thousands.

Conversely, a free press saves lives. Censorship kills, as history has shown us from Chernobyl to coronavirus. Worse, in the absence of journalism, social media spreads misinformation that scientists have difficulty addressing or correcting. That has led to the term “infodemic,” prompting the World Health Organization to work with tech companies to minimize falsehoods about the coronavirus and other diseases.

Pelosi Rips Page from Trump’s Playbook

On the eve of a likely impeachment acquittal in the Senate, President Trump refuses to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand at the start of his State of the Union speech. She responds by ripping it up. But her act had other ramifications: It stole the limelight from the White House.

The night began with President Trump refusing the obligatory handshake with the Speaker of the House. It was, after all, her House. Literally, he was an invited guest. Had Nancy Pelosi let that slight of hand pass, the next day’s headlines might have mentioned the ire between the two, but the focus would have been on what the President said about the economy and other positive talking points.

When she ripped up the speech, she framed the next day’s news. The video of her went viral, especially when Republicans and Trump supporters took the bait and went to social media with harsh posts and tweets. Here’s a representative one from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who alluded to a crude remark:

The White House was more measured in its response:

Pelosi told reporters it was “the courteous thing to do, given the alternative.” She did explain what the alternative might have been. Later she said the Trump speech was “a manifesto of mistruths.”

CNN called the act unprecedented behavior for a speaker, aggressively rude and unapologetically meant to rile up her base. It was divisive, but effective.”

She stole Trump’s show and a page out of his news framing playbook.  

The act itself may or may not have been intentional, but it certainly qualified as manipulation, striking Trump’s weakness for ratings and limelight.

Pelosi did the same thing in 2019 when she condescendingly applauded Trump, rolled her eyes and otherwise undermined his message.

Superbowl Ads Feature Women Role Models

Superbowl advertising on occasion has stereotyped women, but three ads this year depicted role models–an NFL coach, two soccer stars and an astronaut. All three ads also featured powerful hashtags and mottoes.

Be The One: Katie Sowers

The Microsoft Surface advertisement featured Katie Sowers, offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, narrating her ambition to play football. She reads a childhood diary entry: “I hope someday to be on a real football team.” Later in the ad she makes cogent points about NFL players and stereotypes:

These guys have been learning from women their whole lives—moms, grandmas, teachers. We have all these assumptions about what women do in life, what men do. I’m glad my daughter is old enough to see this and how significant it is. I’m not trying to be the best female coach. I’m trying to be the best coach.


The Secret Kicker | Super Bowl Ad #KickInequality

World Cup champions Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn are featured as field goal kicker and holder in this deodorant ad. It’s a close game, with their visiting team losing 24-23 with three seconds on the clock. The camera pans to the stands, and the tension on fans’ faces is apparent. The kick is good, and the visiting team wins game. Audience in the stands cheers without realizing the identity of the “secret kicker.” The players take off their helmets. There is a long pause until recognition kicks in, and the crowd cheers again, this time for women.


OLAY® #MAKESPACEFORWOMEN 

Journalist Katie Couric plays herself as an anchor who asks, “Is there enough space in space for women?” Then we meet three women astronauts an heading toward an Olay spacecraft. Astronaut Nicole Scott plays herself alongside actress Busy Phillips and YouTube personality Lilly Singh. When the craft lifts off and reaches outer space, Phillips quips, “We have the opposite of a problem”–a reference to James A. Lovell’s report to NASA: “Houston, we have a problem.” Singh adds, “There’s so much space up here.” Scott retorts, “I could have told you that.” Another actor, Taraji P. Henson, serves as mission control flight chief in front of a sign that says, “Girls who code,” a reference to a non-profit organization supporting girls in computer science: “When we make space for women, we make space for everyone.” The video cuts back to Phillips and Singh and a sign that reads: “Tweet @Olayskin #MakeSpaceForWomen” and “$1 for Girls to Code.” Then Phillips presses an Olay button, thinking she is adding a donation. But it’s the eject button, hurling her and Singh into space.

The dialogue (i.e. “There’s so much space up here”) and the last scene might have ended better, as it undercuts the proactive message; but the campaign’s support of Girls Who Code more than makes up for the cliché attempts at humor.


While the advertisements were largely devoid of stereotypes, the half-time show featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez sparked debate on whether the performance was empowering or sexist. You could make both arguments, as USA Today noted in an article titled: “Empowering or Objectifying?” In one sequence, choreography featured upside-down disembodied legs of dancers, classic objectification.

shakira

More important, no other advertisement during the game featured blatant stereotypes, branding a company for years to come. Nevertheless, several fell short, according to the Washington Post, which published “The Five Worst Superbowl Commercials.”

 

 

Living ethics: Human condition v. human nature

By Michael Bugeja, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Donald Trump points to his head, wearing a red hat, and standing in front of an American flag.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Fountain Park, Ariz., on March 19, 2016. in Fountain Hills, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

When discussing political candidates, media often use (and sometimes confuse) the terms “human condition” and “human nature.” No one bothers to define them.

What, exactly, is the human condition? What is human nature?

The educational platform, Study.com, defines both. The human condition concerns our positive and negative qualities whereas human nature involves our emotional responses to those traits. “It seems the human condition connects us to each other and the universal story we are all telling together.”

Politicians tell stories. They want us to connect with them.

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for president, believes access to universal health care heals the human condition. She wants to end corruption because greed is part of human nature.

Bernie Sanders feels the same way, perhaps more intensely.

Joe Biden believes Donald Trump, a privileged billionaire, doesn’t understand the human condition; worse, Biden says, the president’s rhetoric appeals to “the worst damn instincts of human nature.”

It’s more complex (of course it is) when it comes to Pete Buttigieg. The Wall Street Journal complains about Buttigieg’s “abstract and slippery verbiage” that leaves us wondering what the candidate meant. “Will the former mayor of South Bend liberate us from the human condition?”

At his rallies, President Trump rarely references the human condition. When it comes to human nature, he uses nicknames — “Pocahontas,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Crazy Bernie” — to describe rivals Warren, Sanders and Biden. His nickname for Mayor Pete is more complex (of course it is): “Alfred E. Neuman,” the gap-toothed mascot on the cover of the humor magazine, “Mad.”

“I’ll be honest. I had to Google that,” Buttigieg said when he heard it.

Pundits often associate Trump policies with the human condition. They explicate human nature to explain the president’s appeal.

The esteemed Brookings Institution posted this about Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace efforts: “To assume that the promise of economic improvement would outweigh ordinary human aspirations of a people who have painfully struggled for decades is to miss the nature of the human condition.”

That quote convolutes both concepts: human condition and nature.

In 2016, The Atlantic psychoanalyzed the president to prophecy how his administration would function. “If all human beings are, by their very nature, social actors, then Donald Trump seems to be more so — superhuman, in this one primal sense.” The psychology professor who wrote the rambling 9,000-word piece predicted the hallmark of the Trump presidency would be “winning at any cost.”

Some could have summed it up with a haiku.

The human condition also can be pegged to our metaphysical duality: consciousness and conscience. Consciousness tells us we come into the world alone, and we leave it alone. Conscience implies what is in me is in you.

It doesn’t matter how you think about these concepts — scientifically or theologically. You can say we are social creatures made of star-stuff who care about each other because of natural selection. Or you can say we are divine creatures made of soul-stuff who care about each other because of religion.

Fact is, most of us fluctuate between two polarities. Sometimes we’re alone in our struggles. Other times, we seem connected. We go back and forth. That is how it feels to be human, ciphering inner voices with differing messages, confounding us about our nature and identity.

Benjamin Franklin who helped program American morality with his 13 virtues — frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, humility, etc. — was just as perplexed as the rest of us.

In a 1782 letter to a theologian, Franklin wrote that human beings are more disposed to do evil than good, taking pleasure in killing rather than healing each other. We assemble great armies, Franklin wrote, to slay as many of the enemy as possible and then find glory in exaggerating the number.

As we approach the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses, we might ponder the conundrum about human condition and human nature. When Franklin wrote, frustrated about efforts to find lasting peace abroad, stakes were high. Monarchs were the norm. Democracy was an experiment.

In our time, stakes are so much higher. Armies can destroy the world in the short term. Climate change, in the longer. Health care may be a natural right for Americans who embrace life, liberty and happiness.

Which candidate can harmonize consciousness with conscience so that one informs the other? Whose platform intuits consequences of actions before taking them and accepts responsibility thereafter? Who affirms forgiveness, compassion, empathy? What can unite a divided nation?

Here’s another test for the best presidential candidate: Ask them to define “human condition” and “human nature.”

Then judge accordingly.