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January 26, 2006

Maximum Occupancy



(click here for full size view)

Looking back at yesterday’s Georgetown post, I agree I was off in critiquing the student protest .  But I think I did adequately characterize Rove’s strategy to create a 9/11-inspired defense of illegal presidential surveillance tactics.  I saw this strategy as built on a daily sequence of stage-managed political events beginning with Rove’s RNC speech last Saturday and culminating with Bush’s dog-and-pony show at NSA headquarters yesterday afternoon.

Judging from yesterday’s images, however, it appears the “frame” Rove had in mind was ahead of schedule. anti-bush. defeat cheney.  defeat rumsfeld. pro-democrat.  anti-bush. defeat cheney.  defeat rumsfeld. pro-democrat.

Rather than focusing on Bush’s sales pitch at top secret N.S.A. headquarters for his over-expansive spying program (link), the NYT instead chose the second picture above to define Bush’s day.  As if having already assimilated Rove’s propaganda, yesterday’s images seemed to credit Bush with a greater sense of mission as he shuttled around in the name of his unsanctioned national security antics.

If one didn’t know better, it would be hard not to be impressed withe the power and authority conveyed in this newswire shot of the Presidential helicopter taking off yesterday morning for the N.S.A.  Similar qualities are also conveyed in the NYT shot from the day’s end.  Certainly, this is not the image of a man fighting to justify his exploitation of his office.  Rather, Bush is presented as a romanticized figure; the singular leader who braves the path alone; a man who’s burns a candle into the night fighting the global enemy from the people’s house.

Curiously, the most overt element in these book-end images is not Bush at all, so much as it is his residence.  And congratulations to Karl for goading the media into using the building to help legitimize and enhance its otherwise law-revising occupant.

(image 1: Jason Reed/Reuters. Washington January 25, 2006. Via YahooNews.  image 2: Doug Mills/The New York Times. January 25th, 2005.  Washington. anti-bush. defeat cheney.  defeat rumsfeld. pro-democrat.

  • marysz

    There have been more staged shots of Bush seen “alone” lately. No Laura, no Condi, no Karl . . . not even the family dog. It could be a attempt to frame Bush as a lone, romanticized Churchillian leader (although the public knows Bush way too well to fall for that). It could also be a way of quarantining him so that his unpopularity with the public doesn’t contaminate the Republicans running in the midterms. It’s always a mistake juxtapose Bush with stately architecture. It has the effect of diminishing him even more and showing what a small man he really is. In the bottom photo, he just looks windblown and ineffectual. Hardly the lonely hero.
    Another reason why we see so many shots of Bush alone could be because his behavior is so unpleasant nobody wants to be around him, not even the White House dog. Only Rove is eager to trot along by his master’s side, but since Rove seems to be on the verge of being indicted in the Plame case, he’s been making himself scarcer in public lately.

  • ummabdulla

    I don’t really think “authority” when I see that first picture. From that angle, the White House seems relatively small and insignificant, like just another building downtown, except that it has more land around it.
    Come to think of it, it doesn’t look all that grand in the second picture either.

  • weisseharre


  • Mad_nVT

    I agree with marysz: In the second photo it looks like this man is fighting a losing battle.
    The Spy Left Out in the Cold.
    But isn’t that the image that we would expect out of that leftist, terrorist-appeasing rag, the NYTimes?
    Can BagMan also offer us the view that is presented by mainstream conservative media? What do their photos indicate that the right-wing is thinking, not just about domestic spying, but all of the issues that need to be discussed.
    Some of those photos can really light a fire in the commentary here.

  • PTate in MN

    The picture on the cover of the national edition of the NYTimes was rel=”nofollow”>slightly different. It showed Bush walking with John “Deathsquad” Negroponte (of Homeland Security). It accompanied a story that predicted that Bush was unlikely to propose big initiatives in his State of the Union Address. I know the front page link that I have provided is too small to get the full impact, but what struck me in the picture was that I scarely recognized Bush.
    I was also struck by the architecture–this wasn’t a view of the WH that I recognized (a metaphorical statement as well as a statement of fact!) The bird’s-eye view in the top photo suggests that Bush was walking on the sidewalk seen center-left. A windblown and chilled Bush is peripheral to the WH.
    I’m confused by these images. On the one hand, the image is analogous to the pictures of Bush gazing out of Air Force One, the brave, lonely leader making the tough choices necessary to protect America. On the other hand, John Negroponte? Isolated, peripheral to the WH?
    Is Rove trying to have it both ways?

  • Zarza

    In the second picture he looks cold, tired, and alone. The low camera angle should have the effect of making him look larger, but instead it makes him look farther away. His back is to the camera and by extension the public/viewer and there is a lot of empty, isolating space around him. Maybe it is a buffer, as others have suggested. But to me it just looks sad. His path is not straight, it curves away and disappears… (where is he heading? And does he really know how to get there?)

  • Michael in Los Angeles

    Thank you for an inciteful, fascinating, and unusual look at the media and politics. I’ve enjoyed all your posts.
    On your last few posts, I think you’ve missed the point, however. The student protest was an amazing bit of political theater, not just for its stark, direct message, but also because it stands so much in contrast to most of what we see (managed images from bushco).
    I’m in agreement with the comments above about the images of the White House and Bush. In the first photo, the message seems to be the opposite of what you suggest. The traditional, formal, symetrical facade of the White House is obscured by the over-reaching, dark limbs of the trees. The helicopter is entangled by the smaller tree, and it’s not clear if will safely land or take off.
    In the second image, I, too, see a lonely man struggling to get home. He’s lost and cold. The light in the window is dim and not at all inviting. The clouds overhead threaten worse weather to come. This angle of the White House evokes a mortuary rather than a seat of power. Again, the leafless trees are threatening, not shelering. You could go even further with this — the path curves into infinity so that you cannot see the end of this man’s journey. The portico is completely dark — there is no comfort in this house for this man.
    All in all, these images are more from the Brothers Grimm than from the Rovian catalogue of “power and authority.” Just as the image of Bush looking out the window of the plane was intended to show power, but instead revealed contempt, fear, insecurity, arrogance, and isolation, so these pictures have a much darker effect.
    I look forward to more images and more insightful comments.

  • PTate in MN

    Michael in Los Angeles…I love your insight that the WH appears as a mortuary and that these images are more Brothers Grimm than Rove! Very true, thank you!
    MAD_nVT…I like your suggestion of looking at the images used by the conservative press. I just checked Fox News online out of curiosity. Not too many pictures there, but lots of bad news for Bush: Hamas wins in a landslide, jobless claims up, the budget deficit up. The pics are close-ups of Bush from press conferences–one, of him defending the spying on Americans–uses the WH as a background, echoing BagMan’s observation that the WH is using the building to legitimise its occupant.

  • Cactus

    EXCELLENT comments by everybody…..not much for me to add.
    The aerial of the WH was a surprise. I had no idea it was so surrounded (enveloped?) by other taller buildings. And so close in. It makes the WH and the seat of iconic power of this country seem totally insignificant. Metaphorically as well as aesthetically, corporate America has swallowed the government.
    POTUS walking, however, is a great shot photographically. Psychologically, one can read into it a number of things. I don’t see courage, though. Most striking is the loneliness. And what is he walking to but cold fluorescent light. The trees, especially the one on the left, are menacing; more evocative of Ichabod Crane than the leader of the free world. If this is a man on a journey, will he even find acceptance or comfort at the end? Has he indeed been deserted by everyone except enabler Laura?

  • jt from BC

    From Clint Eastwood to John Wayne-walking tall looking for his shadow.

  • Victor F

    these pictures look bleak. The trees are bare. The city looks deserted. Bush is walking home, alone. The gray winter clouds are gathering over his head. These images, to me, do not speak to isolation like the righteous loner would experience, but isolation like the pariah. Bush doesn’t look dashing or strong, but depressed and puny in the shadow of the White House.

  • readytoblowagasket

    I often think Bush has no “presidential” bearing (not to mention vocabulary), and this photo of Bush walking captures that. The wind has been really strong here in the East, and it threatens to blow him off the path. Soon the path will lead him headfirst into it. Will he make it to the safety of shelter? Will he finish the journey? Let’s hope not.

  • kay

    The second one looks like a shot from the movie, Psycho. That guy is going back to his “mummy” in that big house over the stairs.

  • ummabdulla

    And Cactus, those buildings around the White House aren’t even very tall. Growing up in the D.C. area, I always heard that no building in D.C could be higher than some landmark – I think it was the Capitol Dome. I’m not sure if that’s actually a law, but certainly Washington isn’t a city of skyscrapers.
    The White House must seem pretty closed in, compared to the ranch in Crawford.

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