Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
July 10, 2009

Reuters Confuses Obama With Berlusconi

Obama Reuters Ogling.jpg

Call it further signs of the media swoon….

Reuters distributes this shot which, from the way everyone is caught in the moment, seems to capture Obama ogling, or at least gamely distracted by this junior G-8 delegate (set up by the notorious Sarkozy seeming to also look on lecherously). Of course, the context is reinforced by the fact host Berlusconi has scandalized Italy, and the conference, with his exploitation of various Italian girls. (If you’ve seen a collection of conference photos, you’ll also see how most of the female aides, photographed sprinkled among the attendees, look like fashion models. (1, 2.)

Of course, this is dangerous territory for the visual media, this photo unavoidably repeating certain racist themes of the presidential contest — in this case, the stereotype of Obama (1, 2) and the African-American man as hyper-sexual and instinctually drawn to the white woman. (In this case, the “pull” is heightened by a young black woman behind Obama, as well as “in between”).

I can’t tell how much it’s the Berlusconi factor, the media’s current “MJ-ization,” and/or a new sense of entitlement to chip away at Obama now that he, and the enduring pain of the recession, are settling in, but if anybody is taking liberty here, it’s the wire service.

Update 10 am PST – Photographer Tim Fadek just forwarded me this video from ABC regarding the photo. The video gives a completely different impression, one that reinforces Obama’s character as a class act … while reinforcing Sarkozy as a lech. What the video shows is Obama in the process of looking back and offering the young black woman a hand stepping off the the steep riser. Sarkozy, on the other hand, is shown looking, then looking around Obama to ogle the girl in red.

By the way, there’s some good conversation going in the discussion thread about the dynamics of reading/reading into such a still.

Update 2 11:10 am PST — Seems there’s some question, at least in the discussion at PDN, about whether it’s fair to tie in the “race” factor. In my mind, at least, it becomes a lot more germane when someone like Drudge chases it (not to mention, tying it to Obama’s “stimulus.”)

(image: Jason Reed/Reuters. caption: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) take their places with junior G8 delegates, including Brazil’s Mayora Tavares (L), for a family photo at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy July 9, 2009. Leaders of the Group of Eight major industrial nations and the main developing economies are meeting in the central Italian city of L’Aquila until Friday to discuss issues ranging from global economic stimulus to climate change and oil prices.)

  • Our Paul

    U-Tube has the sequence leading to this still here

  • http://nailingjello.wordpress.com Sue J

    To me, the only thing the video shows is that Obama is much less obvious about checking her out than was Sarkozy. However brief, there is definitely a “moment” in that video where Obama is checking her out as she ascends the steps. So perhaps he was not “ogling”, which implies a longer leer (ala Sarkozy!), but unfortunately for Obama even a momentary peek looks bad when caught in a still shot.
    Not the first man to catch a peek, and certainly not the last. But hopefully between this shot and the one last week, I hope he’s starting to appreciate the power of the camera ….

  • http://nailingjello.wordpress.com Sue J

    Whoops — meant to say:
    between this shot and the one last week, hopefully he’s gaining a deeper appreciation for the power of the camera.

  • http://www.nocaptionneeded.com Lucaites

    Sue — I’ve watched the video a number of times now and it is not at ALL clear that he is even taking a peek. But there might be a more interesting thing going on here. Clearly the still shot–captured in, what, 1/500 of a second?–makes it appear as if he is getting a good ogle in. I wonder how much stopping time (for all time) in that manner doesn’t frame and manage the ways in which we look at the video itself? In my own case, for example, I had to watch the video several times to be sure one way or the other of what was going on. And yet, if I had seen the video w/o seeing the still shot first I’m pretty sure that I would not have given it a second thought.

  • Ursula L

    Another point on the race issue – some of the reason why the video seems to “debunk” the picture seems to be that it changes the focus of Obama’s interest from a white woman to a black one. In addition to changing the nature of the attention from the oogle to a helping hand.
    I suspect that for the type of people who are most upset by the original still, the tranfer of the focus of attention does more to calm them than the change in the nature of the attention.
    And its interesting to reflect on the changed nature of the attention. Obama actually has more contact with the black woman – he touches her, rather than just looking, he talks to her. But his greater contact is less skeevy and threatening than Sarkozy’s moment of just looking. Because Obama is being helpful to someone he sees as a person, while Sarkozy is seeing a person as an object.

  • ivyleaves

    Excuse me, but the woman being ogled is also a woman of color, not white, but apparently bi-racial. Notice the end of the transfer where she turns to face the camera.

  • ratfood

    Reuters could have chosen any frame from the video and went with this one. We can’t be completely certain of their motive but it seems likely it was picked for the implied element of salaciousness. Sex sells but Reuters job is to (attempt to) provide an accurate depiction of real events. In choosing this photo they have done a disservice to all the parties depicted, particularly President Obama, in addition to undermining their own credibility.

  • mon_oeil

    This photo was clearly disseminated to make a scandal, and that is a shame. It is not visually interesting, and it is evident that it was one of those in-between moments as digital photography is increasing able to capture. Its an awkward moment as people are moving about. I would even suggest that the photographer did not discover the image until afterwards as he was taking a quick succession of shots.
    In terms of the issues of the racial identity of the women. Before I read the Bag commentary and looking only at the photo, I realized that the woman who was identified as white was bi-racial–by her hair texture and skin tone, so I did not understand this debate about white and black women. The video confirms this for me. I think with the unprecedented high visibility of African Americans/people of color of late in the United States, white people should take some lessons on ethnic identification.
    The moving image, which is presented in slow motion, went so quickly–five seconds perhaps, that I am not sure if anyone’s gaze, including Sarkozy’s, was fixed on any particular person.

  • margarita

    Similar observation: the young woman appears to be of the same “race” as Obama, i.e., mixed. She’s Brazilian, and they have their own categories down there, but I doubt she’s presumptively “white.”

  • Ursula L

    I don’t think the Reuters picture is a still from the video. The angles, and the size of the frame, are different. I suspect they had a series of still photographs, taken by a photographer, and this one was notable, but they didn’t have the video to put it in context. The pictures went out, and then people went back and looked for video later.

  • Dave

    I think you guys (BAGnewsNotes) read into pictures WAY too much. In every photograph you guys try to find some overarching theme, context, or explanation. You try to tie innocent pictures to buzzwords and social/cultural problems. Yes, its good to find meaning in photographs. But a lot of the time, it seems you guys are reaching in your conclusions. Give it a rest.

  • Johanna

    The video makes it clear he was behaving in a perfectly gentlemanly way. I can’t say the same for Sarkozy. What I find interesting is the eagerness of people and publications who clearly support Obama to show him as ogling her. There is an attempt to make him into a kind of sexy, adventuresome man’s man ala Clinton. A real WISH to see this behavior in a sexual light. As though that would make him even more attractive. But it’s clear he was helping her, and trying not to fall down the steps himself, and that’s it.

  • yg

    one of the pundits noted this photo is being hyped on the right in a racist manner. the angle that is being pushed is this: they’re playing to fears of the black man as a sexual predator. freepers are calling him a pedophile because the woman is under age and making comparisons to michael jackson.
    ridiculous on its face. everyday we see the fevered mindset on the right, who cook up unsubstantiaed delusional conspiracies against obama, reveal how unstable they are.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/Serr8d Serr8d

    Mkay. You’ve squirmed quite a bit trying to smooth a lot of silky fabric over that particular photo (I’m sure Mr. Obama would love to have your counsel when he’s later confronted by Mrs. Obama…recall the glance she gave to Carla Bruni Sarkozy a while back? I’m thinking Mr. Prezzident is gonna catch more than just a gaze) so, get busy ’splaining this other one.

    (Of course, we know there was never any instances of any embarrassing photos surfacing of President Bush during his 8 years in office, and if there were, absolutely no one would’ve make fun of him…right? )

  • http://profile.typepad.com/Serr8d Serr8d

    Some of the best comments about the first photo…
    He’s even got “boner leg.”
    Larry Flynt just called. He wants his class and subtlety back.

  • http://www.doves2day.blogspot.com g

    Um, she’s not being “ogled.” At least not by Obama.

  • http://www.doves2day.blogspot.com g

    Um….what? A staffer (attractive or not) has a mishap during a ceremonial occasion in front of international leader. Literally right in front of them. They looked at what was happening.
    Note how close the staffer is, physically, to Obama and Sarkozy. Think of your own experience. You are standing in a supermarket line. Someone directly in front of you drops something, and bends to pick it up. What do you do?
    I would say that Obama is probably looking at the space between his body and hers, down toward the floor where whatever it was dropped. Sarkozy, I’m not sure, but I think, given his smile, he was caught in an emotional response to something that had nothing to do with her stooping to pick something up.

  • paulo

    Can our discourse become any more trite?
    Sigh, don’t answer. We’ll find out the answer within 24 hours.

  • Jason

    Is it my imagination or is the big “O” busting a “King of Pop” move? Sarkozy is obviously the skamp in this photo. This entire item is childish. Any one recall our last presidents Terri Hatcher moment? Well, if you don’t this is a minor infraction. I guess their friends?
    I think this discussion of Barrack’s mixed race could be a heathty thing. Michael Jackson spent (probably, nearly) at least a ton of cash to transform himself into some sort of cross between Mikali Calkin (sic) and Corey Feldman (both dear friends). Our President who I am an enormous supporter of is likely to go down in history as the first black president in US history. I’ve wondered if our President struggles to embrace his inner caucasion? Beware! It could send the “wrong message”.

  • doug

    Of course, this is the entire purpose of the website.

  • http://www.avenirlabs.com/default.aspx Avenir labs

    There might be a more interesting thing going on here.

  • jtfromBC

    This person is placing name tags for positioning of these chaps for the photo op.

  • ivyleaves

    I know that, and I never said Obama was ogling her, so I guess the point is you are Obama’s eager defender?

  • ivyleaves

    Dave, time to read a different blog rather than commenting on this one.
    How amusing it is that there is always someone ready to tell a blogger what to write about and how to approach a topic, or to not even care about it. I wonder if they are that self centered and controlling in other arenas?

  • Dave

    Yeah, I’ve deleted this blog from my RSS feed. I fail to realize how making false conclusions about photographs is worth my time.
    And ‘ivyleaves’, I wonder what you are like in your professional life. Do you disregard all criticism that you get? I think I’m profiding a very valuable opinion that doesn’t get expresed enough on this blog.
    I took a picture of a tree. The broken branches symbolize the struggling Iraqi people, the decaying roots the failed Iraqi leadership, and the woodpeckers the insurgents. Because I have connected my tree photograph with a broader issue, my photograph is better and more powerful. Furthermore, this photograph stirs up feelings of the famous tree picture by X photographer for X reasons.
    Analysis is extremely important to photography and picture editing. But theres such thing as over-analysis, or simply wrong analysis, something this blog is all to familiar with.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/Serr8d Serr8d

    There might be a more interesting thing going on here.

    Heh. I’ll say.

  • Kris T

    Ummm…yet another picture that is an attempt at making it look like Mr. Obama is checking out her hindside. She obviously dropped something and everyone is looking down as she picks it up. Nice try.

  • Suzii

    We could assemble a niche blog specifically dedicated to photos of people who weren’t actually doing what we can see them doing. And break out a thread dedicated to people who aren’t actually interested in a tush they’re obviously drooling over — start with this shot, and http://www.theage.com.au/world/us-election-2008/mccain-goes-for-jugular-but-misses-20081016-52c9.html.

  • Molly

    I agree that Obama’s gentlemanliness (is that even a word?) make him very attractive.
    I think you are correct about the forced narrative in this picture. It’s a huge game of gotcha that will only get more desperate as Obama continues to refuse playing the letch. Why would he?

Refresh Archives

Random Notes