February 18, 2005



I had the chance on Thursday to actually listen to Bush’s press conference.  When you just read the transcript, you don’t get the flavor of how condescending he is to reporters.

This recent photo on the White House website suggests how Bush sees and distorts the role of the press.  The caption read:

Surrounded by the members of the media, President George W. Bush greets Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski in the Oval Office Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005. 

If you didn’t look twice, you would think the press did have Bush surrounded.  However, I would say it’s more the other way around.  It’s the White House photographer who has the media surrounded. 

Because the photo was taken with a fish eye lens, Bush and the Polish President are made to seem very small, and the reporters and photographers are made to appear like they are wrapped around.  In contrast, the photographers in the foreground are exaggerated in size and dominate almost half the picture — where they otherwise wouldn’t even fit.

The angle and distortion also makes the press seem invasive.  Consider the microphones, for example.  Accentuated as they are, they look like alien arms or insect tentacles poking and prodding at the President.  Two of the booms, in fact, actually violate the space between Bush and the Polish President, as if to challenge the handshake.  Another seems to have taken possession of the President’s table.  Even more perverse is the mike positioned between Bush’s legs.  If you look closely (or you check the larger version here at the White House site), it seems Bush is fending it off with his hand.

Also, by distorting the spatial relationship between the room and the objects and people in the room, the White House plays tricks with the concept of territory.  In reality, the press has no control as to where, or for how long they are allowed to be present.  As well, they are likely limited to a confined space situated further, rather than closer, to the two Presidents.  By torquing the picture, however, it looks like Bush is the one being confined.  Also, because the room appear to slant inward from the door, it gives the impression that reporters are pouring in, packing the entry, and overflowing the furniture. 

Even more is conveyed by the word “surrounded.”  When it comes to Bush, he’s always under fire.  And he hardly disguises his feeling that the press forms a major front.  With the association in mind, you could almost see those two cameras at the far right — the lenses exaggerated by the White House — as a turret and a shoulder fired missile. And, what of the photographer who’s kneeling?  Of course, he’s just another sharpshooter.

(image: whitehouse.gov — unattributed)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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