Richard Roeper questions the decision to give a photo of Conrad Black flipping reporters the bird the top prize in the annual News Photographers Association of Canada competition. “It’s not even a good picture,” Roeper says, eyeing the picture’s technical shortcomings. Besides, “it’s not even that unusual to catch a public figure in the act of giving the finger these days.”

The photo was taken by David Chidley of the Canadian Press outside the Dirksen Building last July as Black arrived for a day of the trial that led to him serving six and a half years in a Florida prison for fraud and obstruction of justice. No, it’s not a remarkable picture, and unless we take eyewitness testimony into account we can’t even be certain that Black wasn’t making some other sort of gesture. Where are the curled upper lip and mob boss scowl that normally accompany a first-rate mimed obscenity?

But on the other hand. Chidley’s picture prevailed in the spots news category, where artistry plays second fiddle to immediacy. And the Canadian mind-set must be considered, not merely the preoccupation with all things Black but the normal cultural diffidence. “Canadian notable caught in demonstrative behavior” might have been the subtext that put Chidley picture’s over the top.

The worst that can be said about the winning photo is that despite what it shows, it’s false to Black. Susan Berger, a Chicago journalist who maintains a a blog on Black  and who alerted me to the win, observed in e-mail that for the most part “Conrad was totally a gentleman who actually enjoyed talking to the press. (I remember many times when his daughter Alana would just touch his arm and give him a look to get him to stop talking to us.) It was like his daughter and wife kept him in check. There is some irony that this photo won an award because it was truly not a depiction of his behavior during the trial but rather just one day when he lost it.”

UPDATE: On the other hand …