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Was Minneapolis City Council President’s photo altered? You be the judge.

The Star Tribune’s Steve Brandt filed a very entertaining dispatch Wednesday on Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson’s campaign finance hearing.

The Star Tribune’s Steve Brandt filed a very entertaining dispatch Wednesday on Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson’s campaign finance hearing. I wrote about this one last week; the civil hearing revolves around whether Johnson impermissibly spent campaign funds on hairdressers, dry cleaning and other potentially personal uses. City Pages unearthed the expenditures.

Brandt sat in on the hearing, which, improbably, included tales of MPR host Cathy Wurzer’s coiffure. But, as Brandt wrote, there was also this:

The matter arose after City Pages alertly noticed that a number of Johnson’s reported campaign expenses seemed at first blush not to be related to her campaign. But the weekly publication also popped up during Johnson’s testimony, with one exhibit showing a cover photo of Johnson from five years ago. Johnson testified that her teeth had been altered in the photo and her lips made more full.

Bombshell accusation! Altering the, ahem, proportionality of a news subject is considered very uncool, something only the yellowest of journalists attempt.

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As Brandt tells it, that photo, and an unflattering physical description, drove Johnson firmly into the hands of her hairdresser.

I found the cover in question, from 2004, which we’ll get to in a minute. But first, I called the photographer who took the image, Raoul Benavides. “It wasn’t enhanced by me or the art director,” he said. “It wasn’t that kind of story.”

City Pages art director Nick Vlcek concurs. While he will color-correct photos, he says he “absolutely would never” alter the geometry of Johnson’s facial features.

“I wouldn’t have done that stuff, no,” he says. “I remember that shoot, we were all at City Hall, it was a whole big deal. The story was, ‘Here’s a person you may not know.’ How she looked had nothing to do with” the cover concept.

And indeed, the 2004 story was far from being a hit piece; in fact, it was mostly positive.

So there’s the testimony. Here are the photos, from 2004 (left) and 2009:

I gotta say, I don’t see it. While Johnson’s lips are redder and her teeth are whiter, so were mine five years ago.

I’m not unsympathetic to Johnson’s lament that women have a bigger burden when it comes to appearances — and as a guy who hates being photographed, I could see paying someone to ease the pain. All in all, though, I think this is a case of a politician hating to look in the mirror.