May 18, 2005

Uniform Response


This was a photo from Monday — right before the Administration turned a magazine blurb into an opportunity to reset the news cycle.  Given the magnitude of the bleeding in Iraq, the problem can’t help but find its way back into the headlines.  In the meantime, the White House’s Newsweek drama turned out to be much more effective in tamping down the bad news from Iraq than this ineffectual and rather pathetic GI Jane maneuver by America highest Secretary.

In  an article in Monday’s NYT Business section, David Carr describes the rise and fall of former New Yorker editor Tina Brown.   As the person most responsible for turning politicians into celebrities and popularizing celebrity politics, Carr believes that Brown was so successful in reducing politics to hero worship that Ms. Brown rendered herself obsolete. 

Consider this image exhibit A of the "Brown effect."

If political celebrity has come to overshadow the actual skill and performance of the politician, nobody symbolizes this transition more these days than Condi Rice.  Ms. Rice flew from Qatar to Irbil in northern Iraq, by way of Germany.  From there, she traveled 95 miles by helicopter to Salahaddin to meet with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.  At which point, according to the NYPost, she "descended from the plane wearing a desert camouflage Kevlar helmet and matching bulletproof jacket over her tan suit."  Beyond the fashion statement, my question is: What was the point of the helmet?  In this photo and the others I’ve seen, the only figures wearing helmets are the guys who do so for a living.  And the only shooting encountered was the fawning kind coming from the bevy of photographers Ms. Rice had in tow. 

Given the lack of a practical reason for the head gear, there could only be one of two reasons for the accessorizing.  One is to show the folks back home that the Administration remains on the march (notice the hand).   The second possible explanation is that Rice fancies herself a warrior.  Of course, this might sell back home where (kudos to Ms. Brown) being a soldier and playing one in the media have become synonymous.  In Iraq however, folks like Mr. Barzani probably had to keep from wetting themselves after seeing this lady in the chapeaux.


The other affront to reality here was the way this charade was reported (or, more accurately, not reported) in the papers.  Take the account of Ms. Rice’s trip in the LA Times, for example (link  — subscription).  Surprisingly (or, again, not surprisingly), there was no mention of why she made the sudden and unusual visit.  But then, in the post-Brown world of political celebrity, maybe the only questions that really matter anymore are who, where and when

(image: Peter Mackler AFP/Getty Images.  May 16, 2005 in The Los Angeles Times, p. A7)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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