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July 20, 2005

First Impressions

Robertsmugrev1-1

According to the most recent NYT Magazine cover story, the Democrats have improved their ability to frame language to shape the political debate.

What I can’t understand, however, is why the “framing war” seems to be confined to words.  What about pictures?  In introducing Bush’s first Supreme Court nominee, why is it that John Roberts’ highly flattering D.C. Court of Appeals head shot ended up as suitable for Salon, Wonkette and Huffington as it was for Drudge and The NYPost

If you survey other images of Mr. Roberts (who the NYT and WAPO more discreetly depict in a business suit), you will appreciate just how impressive this shot is, and how seductive. In most newswire shots, for example, Roberts doesn’t look nearly this calm, personable, steadfast or ready to take his seat on the highest bench in the land. 

Robertsotherrev

You may think I’m plumbing a molehill over this, but I’m just arguing the case for controlling the language — in this case, visual language — including the power of first impressions, and the “first mover advantage” in setting the terms of this man’s character.  (After all, without much of a record to interpret, it’s mostly the person we have to go by.)

If I was Karl Rove, for example, I might be pleased to see the top image in the MSM, but I would be thrilled to find it popping up throughout the liberal blogosphere.

(image 1: R. Strauss/A.P.  Undated.  Smithsonian/U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — via Huffington, Wonkette, Salon, Drudge and more….  image 2: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. Bush nomination announcement. July 19, 2005 in YahooNews)

  • Quentin

    ‘Self-effacing expression’? I see it more as an idiotic, self-satisfied, disarming smirk, the enduring boyishness of someone like There-are-no-good-targets-in-Afghanistan Rumsfeld who, of course, is much, much older: smile George, smile Donald, smile John and the whole world will smile with you. They are cute boys who mean no harm (remember Georgie’s mommy on the stump?). To judge by Robert’s business associates, I can only conclude that he also knows how to hack mercilessly. You’re right, BAG, the picture sets the frame, a picture is the frame, but first impressions wear off.

  • Asta

    Botox injections.

  • Jen

    The AP photo that ran on the BBC website was my favorite. He looks so worried about whatever is happening off the left side of the frame.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4698237.stm

  • pjr

    Gee, what a surprise that after all the speculation about a woman or minority nominee, Bush selects another milquetoast, white Conservative male, virtually unknown in the nation, apart from his obvious opposition to Roe vs Wade. Just a coincedence of course; and the obvious firestorm over this sad choice will hardly distract from the Rove scandal will it? The hypocrisy continues to flow like lies from an administration which values sycophancy over responsibility.

  • pjr

    Gee, what a surprise that after all the speculation about a woman or minority nominee, Bush selects another milquetoast, white Conservative male, virtually unknown in the nation, apart from his obvious opposition to Roe vs Wade. Just a coincedence of course; and the obvious firestorm over this sad choice will hardly distract from the Rove scandal will it? The hypocrisy continues to flow like lies from an administration which values sycophancy over responsibility.

  • http://cinematicrain.com almostinfamous

    You may think I’m plumbing a molehill over this, but I’m just arguing the case for controlling the language — in this case, visual language — including the power of first impressions, and the “first mover advantage” in setting the terms of this man’s character. (After all, without much of a record to interpret, it’s mostly the person we have to go by.)
    If I was Karl Rove, for example, I might be pleased to see the top image in the MSM, but I would be thrilled to find it popping up throughout the liberal blogosphere

    absolutely. i dont think rove could have planned it that well

  • PTate in MN

    The picture of Roberts in judicial robes is a blank slate. He looks competent, confident but neutral. He could be liberal or conservative. You’re right that it creates a neutral first impression. How could liberals object to this guy???
    For a richer visual of where we may be heading with a Roberts nomination, try to find the photo (by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty images) taken of the candidate & his family as the President makes the formal announcement. I saw it in the paper Minneapolis Star Tribune but I haven’t found it on-line.I know this is just a moment in time, but what rich imagery!
    Bush & Roberts take up 2/3s of the shot. They are framed by pillars, flags and have an open room with chandeliers behind them. Bush is caught with his mouth open, looking like a Doofus as he reads his lines. (Does Bush have ANY idea what he is doing?) Roberts stands by, handsome, head up, at attention, proud and manly. Give that man a ruff and he could be a Prince. His family are boxed against a wall in the right third of the shot. They look like they stepped out of the 1950s. His son in his little blue sailor suit is running around out of control. His lovely blonde wife, a WASP icon in pink and pearls, was photographed with her eyes closed and downcast, her face leaks stress. Her daughter, fearful, cowers as close to her mother as possible.
    The visual suggests that the men are taking charge of the State: Men have the power, men get to be free. Women are restricted to their traditional roles as wife, mother, daughter. Their proper place is at the side of the stage, ornamental props to the real power center. They are upset and powerless but submissive. They close their eyes to what is happening.
    I hope you can find it. It’s worth a million words.

  • bg

    I see this as the pick for Rehnquist/CJ role. While SDO’C has announced, Bush has no CJ replacement from the court, Scalia and Thomas have not got the temperment to build consensus. This guy, 50, conservative and smart who has been Rehnquist’s clerk will be moved up to CJ, easily confirmed by the Senate after this seat is approved. Yes, he could have appointed Roberts as CJ whenever the Rehnquist announcement comes, but by taking a pre-emptive strike towards CJ, this man will easily take over when Rehnquist suddenly can no longer work. The “diversity seat” of SJO’C will then come when Rehnquist leaves.
    I doubt Rehnquist will last much into the next session if he makes it until then. This is also about taking a light off Rove of course. Altogether, I see this as a very shrewd move by Bush.

  • http://www.sherrychandler.com Bluegrass Poet

    Looks like J R Ewing to me.

  • http://techpolicy.typepad.com/ Anup

    (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty images) picture described Ptate in Mn can be found here

  • George Myers

    There’s a demonstration at Union Square in NYC over the nomination the TV news reported today. I have a friend who grew up with, knew his wife from the Bronx, NY. The nominee lost his brother-in-law a short while ago when his LandRover and he plunged off the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. The bridge needs to be replaced, my friend’s company looking at it, part of TYCO. I read this nominee worked on both sides of the “aisle” as they say. Once at the grand opening of NY State’s law school in Buffalo, NY, I have to wonder who what when where why and how will this go? The opening was late and the new campus unequipped for its initial opening which I was citizen arrested at for a foul up, a “criminal tampering” a felony. Does your state permit citizen arrests that way?

  • David Weigel

    What’s with the bloodshot eyes in every picture?

  • space

    Is the fact that the top photo is credited to a “R. Strauss” a special touch?

  • http://yougottaholdthehandle.blogspot.com FootFace

    I was floored by this picture in this morning’s Seattle Times. The wife and daughter look so fearful. Are they afraid of what Daddy will say about son’s antics when the cameras are off?

  • http://theheretik.typepad.com/the_heretik/ The Heretik
  • Chris

    The repeating visual that sticks to mind is how Roberts always seems to have his mouth shut.
    “I am not saying anything”

  • http://interestingtimes.blogspot.com Chris Andersen

    Boy, he really does look like Pat Sajak! Especially in that second photo.

  • http://biobrain.blogspot.com/ Doctor Biobrain

    Whenever I see Roberts, all I can think of is Frank Burns from the TV show MASH (not to be confused with the real Frank Burns played by Robert Duvell in the movie). If only we could get Hawkeye and Trapper John to question him during the hearings. He’d fold like a wet paperbag.

  • SamAm

    Did anyone else notice that when it was Roberts’ turn to speak, Bush didn’t get out of his way, so the nominee’s first words to the nation came when he was leaning into the podium?
    It always has to be about Georgie, doesn’t it. No class, this crew. Not even for their own.

  • leftbehind

    Turn the picture upside down and examine the ice cubes in the glass next to his right hand – you will find the word “sex” subliminally airbrushed across the top three cubes of ice.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    the power of first impressions…
    “If I was Karl Rove, for example, I might be pleased to see the top image in the MSM, but I would be thrilled to find it popping up throughout the liberal blogosphere.”
    oh yeah. visual frame of confirmation debate be established: How could anyone be so rude as to block the nomination of this nice man ?
    and what an interchangeable part this cog is! why, he could serve you well in almost any role, honey: doctor, lawyer, pastor or business patron…
    …he’s scrumpdiddlyumptious!
    Hello, Central Casting? Mr. President here. Is anyone shooting a re-make of Jerzy Kocinsky’s Being There? They are? Who’s playing Chauncey Gardiner? John Roberts, huh… well great! Send him on over to The Supreme Court.
    Demos are left to say what he is not :
    NOT a woman.
    NOT an ethnic.
    NOT an independent.
    it’ll take some mighty mud to soil or even stick to this teflon-framed first visual impression.
    if you’re agin’ him ~ your only hope is that, like some old silent (visual) screen era icon ~ when the talkie time on TeeVee comes, he ends up sounding like Daffy Duck.

  • http://www.lananfrank.net/lana/ amanuensis

    He looks like a Hollywood actor playing a judge. He looks nice, affable, and empty.

  • http://biobrain.blogspot.com/ Doctor Biobrain

    He looks nice, affable, and empty.
    I see no reason to stereotype people based upon their looks. He was supposedly one of the top Supreme Court lawyers in the country before he was picked to be an appellete judge. If that’s correct, I kind of doubt that he’s empty inside. In fact, I suspect that might be a ruse he puts on so that people underestimate him. Most people who look stupid are stupid, but some people are just trapped with the faces they were born with.

  • Asta

    FootFace wrote: I was floored by this picture in this morning’s Seattle Times. The wife and daughter look so fearful. Are they afraid of what Daddy will say about son’s antics when the cameras are off?
    Well, I didn’t understand exactly what you meant, but now I do. I just saw the news clip of the Roberts’ boy re-enacting the midget dance from “Twin Peaks”. When his mother tried to “restrain” him by grabbing his arm, the little devil bit her on the wrist. I was amazed. There’s something wrong with that kid.

  • hauksdottir

    The family picture is incredibly revealing. Bush is planted between the nominee and his family, and Roberts only has eyes for the President. The angling of the podium further shoves the family to the outside. The empty halls of power behind the men, with nice red carpet reminds me of Aggamemnon.
    The family? :shudder:
    That is soooooo dysfunctional, it is scary. The mother and daughter are terrified of being in public: probably brutalized verbally on a daily basis for never being good enough. I can imagine that Roberts will scathingly criticize her for not standing straight and ruining his moment by not looking happy. She looks subserviant as well as scared. The boy? Who puts kids in saddle shoes any more? He is almost certainly spoiled as a beloved son-of-his-father, and if he can bite his mother in public without his father saying anything, we can only guess at what he does to his sister in private. I come from an abusive 50’s family, where being female was a fault as unredeemable as original sin. I know just what cruelties civility on the outside can hide on the inside. However, I don’t think I’m reading too much personal background into this: the body language of all the participants is blatant.
    The nomination and announcement were rushed to distract the public. With more time to prepare, the females in the family might be more enthusiastic (or even interested in their surroundings), and the father could have sat his son down for a lesson in how to behave in public. What if he’d bitten the President? What will happen when he brings his son “to the office” and he bites a clerk or elderly judge who dares to admonish him?
    This is a fine show of power with no love.
    Scary.
    Carolly

  • Quentin

    Roberts has a funny kid. He’s evidently not as ‘civil’ as his father. The kid’s faith has probably yet to be tested, tough. He’ll certainly not turn out to be Hindu or Muslium.
    Why do American politicians have to drag their damn families around every time they uncivilly fart in public. In fact, this is not even the campaign trail. What do Roberts’ wife and kids have to do with his suitability as a Supreme Court justice.

  • Quentin

    For ‘politicians’ read ‘politicians and other public government figures’.

  • SEV

    I think his hair looks fake, and his toothless smile makes him look like he’s hiding something.
    But I find the picture with his wife and kids to be downright CREEPY…very disturbing.

  • Asta

    For some reason the linked photograph that includes Wife and Kids reminded me of the overall visual feeling of the movie “The Shining”, particularly the scene of the twin girls when Danny peddles down the wrong hallway. Kubrick probably would love the eerieness of that photo.
    When I first saw the video clip on the news, my initial reaction was sympathetic: “Oh dear, their son is autistic.”
    Then I thought, “Gee, that’s a young George Bush, Bushie probably acted out just like that in front of important people and embarrassed the hell out of GHWB and Babs.”
    What would make a kid act like such a little monkey in front of people? The whole performance did not speak well for all concerned. Why weren’t the kids left back at the hotel with a baby sitter? Aren’t the Republicans always saying the “Adults are in Charge Now”? Looks to me that the Roberts Boy was pretty much in charge — no one seemed to be able to control him.
    (And yeah, I agree about the saddle oxfords. In fact, I hadn’t seen a pair of those in so long, I couldn’t think of the name.)
    Seriously though, I now have to re-evaluate the expression on John Roberts’ face…you suppose he was thinking that maybe his anti-abortion views might be all wrong?

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    Asta! Ouch!
    Actually, in the second photo of Roberts, I thought he looked like he was trying hard not to cry. Maybe knew what his son would pull…?
    And, Quentin, one’s family has EVERYTHING to do with one’s suitability as a nominee to anything these days. If Roberts is a lax disciplinarian for his son, how does this play out for his ability to stick to his guns on the bench?

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    Caption for the family picture:
    “Hey, everybody! Let’s chicken dance!
    Na-na na-na nu-nu nuh,
    Na-na na-na nu-nu nuh,
    Na-na na-na nu-nu nuh,
    CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP!”

  • http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/iraq_casualties.htm ms kubelik

    Yes, on the botox, asta. No one with kids who is 50 himself has that kind of “smooth” forehead naturally.
    The children are adopted, fwiw.
    And really, is it toupee or not-toupee — or a case of hair plugs?
    Not that any of that has to do with his integrity, intelligence, or judicial ability. ;)

  • Griffin

    Toupee. But still better hair than your average Republican.
    There is something about this man I find deeply unsettling, but as of yet haven’t been able to put my finger on. He doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin, does he?

  • Bill

    I would love to see your analysis of the picture of Robert’s son “playing” while the wife is dutifully standing by and the daughter is hiding by the mother.

  • Heffa

    I think some of these Roberts family photo analyses are interesting but absurd. Why wouldn’t a young child (Roberts’ daughter) look fearful in the face of bright lights, cameras, and strangers (including the President of the U.S., despite his puppet-status)? I think some people are overreaching in an effort to score ideological points. So what if the Roberts like to dress their son in old-fashioned shoes? Is that a crime? C’mon. And the one critiquer can tell that Roberts is abusing his family in private based on a fearful look by his wife or daughter in a snapshot or two? You’re more omniscient than I! Seems rather illiberal and unfeminist to knock Jane Roberts and her daughter just because you don’t like Bush (and, by extension, Roberts).

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