September 8, 2005
Not only did Kos have a devastating post on Tuesday regarding FEMA’s employment of firefighters as PR props during Bush’s Katrina visit, he also presented the visual smoking gun. Although the photo is damning enough, I was further interested in the emotional cost of Bush’s interference on the responders themselves.
In the Salt Lake piece, this shot (with caption) couldn’t be more illustrative of the frustration caused by FEMA’s inanity. What else would you expect when men — who were desperately needed in NO — are forced to sit in a conference room in an Atlanta Sheraton and undergo training as “community-relations” officers?
Going back to Bush and the firefighters: if I was specifically skilled in responding to a disaster, and I was turned into a human prop, I’m sure — whether out of embarrassment, shame, frustration, passive protest or some combination — I wouldn’t be able to look up either.
Of course, the impression of Bush is also curious to consider. Unfortunately, there’s no way to read into it accurately. He could be bored and annoyed. But he could just as easily be overheated and breathing hard.
Beyond just evidence of exploitation, however, the overall photo of Bush and the firefighters has some interesting dynamics.
What seems most unique about this shot is that the entourage is “between photo ops” and Dubya isn’t aware of the camera. Given that Bush’s public persona is built around the theme of solidarity and utter compassion, I believe the most honest (and revealing) element of the photo is how completely disconnected Bush is from the other men. It’s as if the picture was divided by that tree between Bush and the fireman in the yellow hat, and we were really looking at separate images.
If I didn’t know the back story, I might argue that the firefighters just happened to be walking ahead. Knowing the politics of the situation though, it seems reasonable to assume they were feeling had.
(image 1: REUTERS/Larry Downing. Biloxi, Mississippi.September 2, 2005. At YahooNews. image 2: Leah Hogsten/Salt Lake City Tribune.)