First there was Ryan’s Soup Kitchen Gate, now there’s Romney’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Gate — strangely, with more soup on hand.
Yesterday, the word going around in response to Romney’s Hurricane relief non-campaign-campaign event was that the Red Cross had no use for canned goods (and actually had to divert personnel to assist Romney’s collection efforts). In the meantime, several people wrote me last night saying that the scene, looking at the photos, looked stagey. Observations ranged from how new all the goods looked to the way they were so perfectly arranged on the table — neatly organized, labels forward — as if more a show or a photo-op than a collection effort in progress.
So the news today (Buzzfeed broke the story) is that the Romney campaign took $5k, headed to Walmart, and purchased canned goods and household supplies to give out to people in order to give back to Romney and the campaign. The deal was that you could attend the non-rally if you brought supplies to donate to the relief effort.
Knowing what we know know, the TwitPic above is largely illuminating. Taken by NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro (retweeted by photographer Phil Rucker), we see Romney volunteers taking goods from bags and carefully arranging them on the tables. Let’s be clear, however, exactly how and where the deception is taking place. The fraud is in the perceptual deceit — and, in exactly the same mode as the soup kitchen lie, the exploitation of charity (and charitable organizations) to perpetuate the deception. The photo is a smoking gun in at least two different ways: to the extent these goods were bought by the campaign and laid out for the cameras to suggest they were donated by the public, it’s a fraud. And to the extent they represent goods for the public to use in the inevitable mountain of photo ops — the photos of Romney collecting the goods leading media consumers to believe that a citizen bought and donated that item him or herself — is also a fraud.
Finally, there’s the issue of libel — of reputations being damaged and people getting hurt as a result of the misrepresentation — because it’s not just Romney damaging himself here.
If you read my follow up piece to the Ryan story in response to MSM bloggers minimizing the act, I described the libelous nature of Ryan’s actions that day. In the case of the soup kitchen imbroglio, Ryan’s photo op ended up putting the charity at risk for letting this happen and that organization at risk with its benefactors for it’s inadvertent role. At the same time, Ryan jeopardized the careers of the journalists present over the potential collusion. In terms of the Romney event, the media sussed out the subterfuge pretty fast, but there is other fallout, and other dynamics to this photos.
For instance, what connotations does this have for the Red Cross that not just their logo, but their association, is connected to this deception? Much more directly though, what of the poor volunteers in these photos?
By enlisting these workers in a perceptual charade — these photo appearing all over the media and the internet today in a perfectly understandably “gotcha” response — the Romney campaign has set up its own volunteers as naive tools. With the opposition sure to use this as an example of how Romney treats/thinks of workers, these unfortunate Romney volunteers now look like chumps at best, aiders-and-abettors at worst.
(You can make of the props in hand what you will.)
Buzzfeed, by the way, did a wonderful job of photo editing in choosing out this photo to lead its story today. In a thoroughly ironic shot, you almost can’t tell if this guy is handing Romney the Gatorade, or Romney is handing it to the guy to give back to him. Technically, it’s the former, but in the larger reality, which is it? The fact you can’t tell makes this photo, and the subterfuge, puts Romney in the same soup (Campbell’s providing the accent) as his running mate found himself in previously.
And, while I’m on a metaphoric jag (which you’ll indulge me, I hope, given the subject matter and the kind of exaggeration engendered by the campaign), let’s just say: with Romney, it’s hard to tell how much anything holds water.
(photo 1: Ari Shapiro/Twitter via Phil Rucker. photo 2: garrettnbcnews/Instagram caption: Romney Dayton event a hybrid b/t political & storm relief. RNC vid played, but no signs, etc and lots of food/supplies being collected for victims. photo 3: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images caption: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a bag of donated paper towels during a Kettering Storm Relief event on October 30, 2012 in Kettering, Ohio. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Mitt Romney’s campaign has reduced their campaign schedule and are focusing their attention on disaster relief. photo 4: Brian Snyder / Reuters. photo 5: Charles Dharapak/AP caption: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lifts bottles of water to load into a truck as he participates in a campaign event collecting supplies from residents and local relief organizations for victims of superstorm Sandy,Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, at the James S. Trent Arena in Kettering, Ohio.)