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March 2, 2006

The Perp-fect Storm (Or: Amerka’s Not So Funniest Presidential Home Videos)

Bushcamera

Bush-Katrina-Tape

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the damning video clip of Bush’s Katrina teleconference with Michael Brown that was released yesterday afternoon.  (Crooks and Liars has the video.)

If you follow this site, you know that — for all the profound, destined-to-be-historical pictures that land here — I don’t throw around a lot of superlatives.  Well today, that’s out the window.  Not from an aesthetic standpoint, of course, but from a political one, I found this picture absolutely stunning.  For visual significance, I’d give it Abu Ghraib level impact.  It reminds me of the disclosure of the Nixon’s tapes.

How can I possibly make such comparisons?

Day, month and year in and out, I’ve been looking at images of and by the Administration.  The level of visual control over these images is not only extreme, it hardly seems to vary.  Then today, completely out of the blue, comes this.  I don’t know how the AP got their hands on this tape, but I’m sure Alberto Gonzales himself is already out there hunting for them.

Anyway, let’s start with where this image was taken.  For a long time, I thought this was a room in Bush’s ranch.  Actually though, I think it’s a trailer set up specifically for communications.  (The way they prettied it up with the wood siding and the photographs makes it hard to tell — of course.)  Anyway, the first time I saw this room was in this shot, taken in 2002, featuring Bush looking at papers with Harriet Miers and then Deputy Chief of Staff, Joe Hagin.  The pic you need to see to fully appreciate today’s image, however, was taken during another teleconference, that one a National Security Council meeting featuring General John Abizaid.

Now, back to the shot of the day.

Consider the context, first.  The image is a true “smoking gun,” revealing Bush shmoozing his ultra-brief way through a four alarm warning from friend “Brownie” about the storm of a lifetime.  (But, when it’s late for nap time….)  Solely on its visual characteristics, the image has a damning feel.  It’s not just that Bush looks as fuzzy, remote, small and distant as the the situation itself proves him to be.  It’s that, for the first time, we see Bush free of any spin control or editorial filtering by Karl Rove or any other PR flunkies.

And what are the primary visual references evoked from this clandestine scene?  How about, leader of the free world meets 7-11 shoplifting cam?  Or, Prez caught on undercover surveillance video?  (Maybe the AP should have run the tape by the FISA court first.)  What about, President in a box? Or closet? (Physically, the space itself seems to evoke a cheap hotel room used for drug deals, or one of those cop TV show interrogation rooms.)  More powerful than all, however, is the read in which the viewer (finally) look down on Bush while he must answer to us.  In the meantime, he sits under those lights like he’s some kind of perp (or meatloaf under the heat lamp in some Texas road side diner).

Lastly, I love how this scene finally reveals the indentured White House photographer — shown here crammed into the corner trying to find enough space for a respectable shot like the one linked to above.  It’s a pretty straightforward gig, actually.  You just take a guy who is fundamentally disinterested in work and make him look completely winning at it.

Well, this time you’re busted!





For More Bush/Katrina Retrospective, See The BAG’s Coverage: The Week America Lost New Orleans: A Presidential Retrospective (link).

(image: AP.  March 1, 2006.  via crooksandliars.com)

  • blabby

    My first instinct upon seeing the photo was to ask myself, “Why is he posting a picture of Hitler hiding in his underground bunker?”

  • lytom

    Is this enough evidence to greet bush on his arrival with an order of arrest by the representatives of the people?
    But, I guess, I am thinking of other places and instances, where the “smaller level disasters” had heads rolling.

  • marysz

    Is Bush’s bunker in Crawford? What a dingy space. Bush probably spends very little time there, but it’s where his minions are forced to work. That way he and Laura are spared the sight of non-important staff at their “ranch” (paid for with the taxpayer’s money). The meeting with Brown shows how creepily disengaged Bush is–he’s an empty suit. His only involvement is to throw a tantrum when things don’t go his way.

  • mugatea

    Luke warm road side meatloaf is more appealing. Mmm, meatloaf.
    In these pictures/video it’s amazing how blacks are represented in this current administration. Zero to one, maybe? It’s a Whitey House, fo shiz. Sad, for many reasons, but especialy in an event like Katrina that had such a huge impact on our black population.

  • lemondloulou54

    RE how AP got ahold of this tape: I read somewhere that the tape was made in Louisiana–either NO or BR–and just “surfaced” recently as it were.

  • JRW

    The third paragraph from the end of today’s LA Times article on the Bush/Katrina video reads:
    “Department briefings are routinely recorded, said Knocke, adding that Homeland Security does not know how Associated Press got the footage of the Aug. 28 briefing. It was also obtained that day or the day after by a network and a cable affiliate, but neither aired it, he said.” Note the last sentence!!!!!
    If what the Times says is true, then at least one major media outfit has been sitting on this.

  • Asta

    How utterly creepy. Claustrophobic.
    A room with no windows, no view. It’s Bush’s Bubble-mobile.

  • zatopa

    So it would seem that the big eye in the watchtower has taken a moment to glance towards W. himself. Haven’t we been thinking of the two as more or less synonymous? Whose face are we to imagine on Big Brother now?

  • http://www.dock.net/fuming_mucker Darryl Pearce

    I’m intrigued by the pictures on the wall: who are they? What’s with the signatures? I had a dozen pictures and two spots in my cubicle but I don’t think I rotated the pictures that often.
    Ah, my cubicle…. time to get off the internet and start searching for work again.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/RubDMC/ RubDMC

    The image you’ve featured (and a link to the Bag) was posted in a discussion thread at DailyKos. I also grabbed the widely circulated photo taken by the guy crammed into the trailer corner to round out the set of 3, and built a page here here.
    The motherfuckers knew, and didn’t do a thing…

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    Switch the lens to a fisheye lense and you get yourself a President in a fishbowl or the proverbial bubble.

  • Meredith

    Maybe Brownie released these to the AP in an attempt to clear his name. Probably not, but with the way he’s reacting today, the thought definitely crossed my mind.

  • Cactus

    Sounds as if it’s about time for the moonies to buy up the AP.
    Geedub was reading the sequel to “My Pet Goat” during the conference, until somebody poked him to close it off.
    Of course the media was sitting on it because they didn’t want the Rove-wrath to cometh down upon them. Now that someone pointed out that the emperor has no clothes, they are all feeling a little braver and acting like the school-yard bullies: he’s already hurting so now’s the time for the sucker punch.
    Let nothing I’ve just said be interpreted as sympathy for the devil.

  • Asta

    So what’s the sequeal to “My Pet Goat?” “My Pet Judas Goat”?
    The most satisfying part of this whole revelation is that someone, somewhere, had the courage to get this tape and distribute it.
    If there was only a tape of him planning 9/11 with Rove and Cheney.

  • http://www.fractalcrayons.com/uscityzen John Gillnitz

    I don’t know how the AP got their hands on this tape…”
    My money is on Brown. I seem to remember he made a threat of sorts right before his congressional testimony. He wanted to be brought under protection and they threw him to the wolves.
    Brown took a lot more blame then he deserved while Chortoff (sp?) got off easy. He still seems something of a fuck up.

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    This video gives us a solid data point for recalibrating our response to the official Katrina storyline. Three days after Lake Pontchartrain started flooding into the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the President invoked the Condi Doctrine as cover and explanation for the clearly inept federal disaster response in the Gulf. Who knew the levees wouldn’t survive the storm surge of a Cat 4 hurricane? (Compare with: Who knew terrorists would use commercial airplanes as suicide bombs? And: Who knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction?)
    Recalibrating. Fully aware of the potential gravity of the situation in the American Gulf, the President of the United States decided it was in the country’s best interest that he fly to the west coast, goof around with a guitar, make a couple of stump appearances of no real significance, help Senator John McCain celebrate his birthday. The President looked relaxed and confident at those public appearances, a composure we now know was not based on any innocent ignorance. Who knew? He knew and it doesn’t look like it bothered him much at all.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/richsodergren/ rchsod

    what i find really interesting in the shot over his shoulder is how small the tv screen is and how far away it is from him. i`m a normal educated 59 year and i was glued to my monitor screen and the tv. i sat here and discussed with others on du about what may happen during and what may happen in the future after the storm. we racked up over 1800 subject only posts and god knows how many replies.
    but here is bush sitting in a chair more worried about his finger than what is happening on the tv screen which seems to be miles away.
    it is really hard to believe that the president of the united states america could care less if a people and their city dies but we as a nation must someday face this fact the president of the united states doesn`t care

  • readytoblowagasket

    black dog barking, you’ll appreciate the editorial on truthout by William Rivers Pitt called “No One Could Have Anticipated . . .”, which makes the same connections you make to the 9/11 airplane attacks, etc. An excerpt:
    “No one could have anticipated the failure of the levees.
    “No one could have anticipated the strength of the insurgency in Iraq.
    “No one could have anticipated that people would use airplanes as weapons against buildings.
    “No one could have anticipated these things . . . except all the people who did.”
    And he concludes:
    “No one could have anticipated that the United States of America would ever be governed by a man so callow, so unconnected, so uncaring, so detached, that tens of thousands of people would die during his time in office because he just didn’t give a damn.”
    http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/030206J.shtml
    I’ve thought many times in the last five years that Bush doesn’t give a shit about human life: in New Orleans and Mississippi, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in New York, D.C., or Pennsylvania. I don’t consider him evil like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rove, who I see as able to feel at least hatred toward others. Bush’s pathology seems to make him unable to feel anything whatsoever toward other human beings. I wish the military would wake the fuck up and see this essential and flagrant character flaw in their Commander in Chief. He does not give a shit if you die for him.
    I don’t think it takes courage to release the tape, I think it takes a lot of anger. And that, my friends, would point to Brownie.

  • http://www.keirneuringer.blogspot.com Keir

    The most striking thing for me, at least the way the AP edited the video, is that what the president said, sitting in his little communication bunker—and not for a public audience, mind you—is something along the lines of “we pray for no loss of life”.
    Now that shit might work for “the base”, but what the hell is the president doing talking about prayer at that point in time and to those people? That’s the help on the way?

  • Asta

    Yeah, my money’s on Brownie, too, after reading the following comments. Courage is good, anger is better. Or as Bush would say, more gooder.
    I would just like to know how Brownie got the tape. He must have had some sympathic help.

  • http://mdhatter.blogspot.com mdhatter

    surprise! on candid camera!

  • http://mdhatter.blogspot.com mdhatter

    apparenly typepad does not appreciate tags. ahem….
    youuuuuu’re on candid camera!

  • http://profile.typekey.com/vandree/ vandree

    The table Bush is sitting at is what struck me. On it there are only a couple of papers and what looks like an open magazine. I would have expected a laptop, maps, lots of papers, reports, notes with questions to ask.
    I must admit that video changed my opinion of Brown a little for the better. I don’t think though that he is the source of the tape. If he did have it, he would have given it to the commitee before his hearing and that would have avoided the beating he got from the senators.

  • jt from BC

    Who as a leader might I compare George W Bush with, well there were several of another era who too were uncomfortable around people, were cold, stiff, bland and moved in small cliques and commanded great secrecy. A general atmosphere of ruthlessness distrust and disdain accompanied speeches riddled with cliches of great progress and of the heroic efforts of the people. With one exception “W” fits within this group they were ruthless, where he is simply lazy, indifferent and clueless. Relinquishing ones humanity may have been a prerequisite to becoming a party leader in the USSR, but what of the Commander in Chief where or how did he lose his humanity ? Being born again seems only to have elevated his contempt for those he claims to be offering the promised land but with a different but similar set of cliche riddled nonsense. Its time this dry drunk received more exposure by people who are brave or angry and I hope there is some person so outraged that he will deliver the fatal blow to this most flawed individual who holds such awesome power.

  • gleex

    I agree with the looking down at the little Bush. Also the content is damning, can’t get away from that (of course most sane people in the world ~95% of the worlds population know this).

  • mugatea

    The timing of this video release is of interest too … the boy king and his handlers are out of the country.
    That makes it hard for them to respond … and somebody knew that.
    You’ve done a heck of a job, Bushie.

  • readytoblowagasket

    jt, being born-again in Bush’s case might simply be a transfer of addictions. Nestled in the safe arms of organized religion, he is as free to be every bit the flaming asshole he surely was as a party boy. It was a self-protective move, relinquishing only the (drugs and) alcohol (if in fact he has) and none of the self-serving thought processes. I don’t consider Bush devout in the least. He lacks the essential requirement of humility. Bush is severely stunted, which may be worse than lazy.

  • hauksdottir

    AP released this video to the media at least 6 months ago, and all the major news outlets buried it like something to put in the bottom of the cat’s litterbox. Just like the NYT and Washington Post both sat on major stories for a year. The White House asks, begs, or orders them to cover up anything which might be embarrassing. The editors-in-chief must be blackmailed (I would not put it past Rove). This is more than simply guarding the corporate sponsorship. Bush summons them and they crawl abjectly.
    The photos are interesting. They resemble the photos taken of Bush with major donors. The one which was by the door and is now in the center of the wall looks like a shooting trip, but it might be two guys with weed whackers. ;^) I’d love to know who is in those photos. Since they aren’t art, they must have meaning in this very private context.
    Do Bush’s minions put up the oval “western white house” behind him for other video conferences with cabinet members? Why? To remind them that they aren’t by his side? I thought that sign was used for press conferences and official speeches or signing statements, where the *public* needs to know that the communication is official. Or is the sign posted to show when a video conference is officially part of the historical record as opposed to a cell phone call?
    Someone may have told Bush that he needs to look like he is working even when he is out on the Ranch, and so the sign and suit jacket have been introduced to add gravitas to recorded events.
    I also think this room is part of a sealed airtight underground bunker with secure communications. No light leaks at all, even from under the door. Climate control. Spyproof. Even the phones are not permanent. That Texas sun is completely absent.
    The supposed sunlight laws aren’t revealing enough of this Administration’s workings, but videos such as this will go a long way. Tammany Hall ripped open because of cartoons. Today’s audience was raised on moving images. The stills from Abu Ghraib are bad, but I suspect that the videos with sound will be the clincher. I wish that there exists video of Bush watching and “reacting”. The morning of 9/11 we have the video of Bush sitting there for minute after stunned minute like a puppet waiting for someone to pull his strings. Here we have Bush picking at his fingers while looking at a hurricane the size of Texas. Given all the disasters of his reign, we will probably see other prime examples of his absolute indifference to human suffering at any time or place.
    Carolly

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    The Pitt piece linked by readytoblowagasket contains a quote from 2000 Bush-Gore debates:

    It broke my heart to go to the flood scene in Del Rio where a fellow and his family got completely uprooted. The only thing I knew was to get aid as quickly as possible with state and federal help, and to put my arms around the man and his family and cry with them.

    Recalibrate. Armed with first hand knowledge of the terrifying personal and family consequences of catastrophic flood, the President of the United States chose to share a birthday cake with Senator John McCain the day the levees failed in New Orleans. There were smiles all around under bright blue skies on that tarmac near Phoenix.

  • SLJ

    I agree, this is a really powerful picture:
    The empty chairs remind us of the empty promises of the administration’s response.
    The photographer in the background remind us that Bush governs by photo op.
    The lack of focus shows the inability to pay attention to detail.
    And, the big picture isn’t so pretty either.

  • debbie terhune

    I am curious about the pictures on the wall, they have changed between the photo with Harriet and the Katrina picture. Any way to find out what the photos are? one of them is Bush’s father with two other guys. It certainly does not look like a room in which work is done.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/error27/ error27

    This is the only time I’ve heard Bush talking adult talk instead of the baby talk he uses for his speeches.
    It’s so irritating to listen to his speeches because he’s all, “The enemies of America. They’re terrorists. Bad people. That’s why we have to spread freedom.” He uses small words. He talks slowly in a baby voice. He’s explaining stupid stuff as if he doesn’t think people understand what the definition of terrorist is.
    If Bush used his adult voice more often, I’d probably respect him more.

  • XuYu

    The reason it looks like a prefab trailer is because it’s a prefab ranch.

  • Lt. Bighorn

    Brilliant post by BAG, as usual, and terrific insights by commenters, as always.
    I’d also like to comment on the wall hangings. In the Katrina crisis video, there is an oval plaque beside the door with the Great Seal of the President. It was obviously deliberately placed there because it would be in camera range while the “President” was using the media conference room.
    The Seal is one of the hallmarks of the Presidency. It’s affixed to podiums (podia?) where the president is speaking. It’s a totem. Its presence is almost required.
    But there’s a problem, it’s way off centre, skewed to the far right side. It’s too big for the space, hanged right at the edge of the wall and overlapping the door frame.
    To me, this is emblematic of the Bush “presidency’. The job is too big for the lazy, mediocre office-holder. He can’t quite fit. he’s too far to the right.

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