After a week’s worth of Rove images — mostly as a result of Rove having thrust himself into the media eye — we now have this. If there was any doubt before, the point Karl obviously wants to make is that he can stand up to (or out-gaze) anybody.
My first question about this cover is why TIME, in taking their best shot at Rove, would actually have him pose for a portrait. Allowing him to physically appeal directly to TIME’s audience is the visual equivalent of leading off your case by calling your opposition’s key rebuttal witness. Effectively, Rove’s intention is to say: "Whatever accusatory words you read to the left of me and in these pages behind me, they’re not true. I couldn’t look at you like this if they were."
With the setbacks reporters have suffered in this case, as well as other recent press disasters (such as Newsweek’s "Koran flushing" debacle), maybe TIME felt they needed a "fair and balanced" credit that would accrue from giving Rove this kind of access. Call it "blow-back" insurance.
Aside from the fact Rove serves as a disclaimer, however, I think the magazine did try in careful (and not unsuccessful) ways to control matters. One thing they did was show Rove absolutely on his own, noticeably removed from his typical props (meaning no President, White House, White House Lawn, Airforce One, etc). (Okay, Rove does sport the overt lapel pin that he must have matched with the tie then shined twice before cameras rolled.)
Also, Rove’s shadow, whether photoshopped onto the flat gray background (or just carried over from the backdrop he was originally photographed against) seems to reflect his shadowy personality and behavior (as well as, possibly, the shadow he’s under). The gray field, by the way, suggests some interesting allusions. To me, it has the feel of Karl being up against a wall or even about to face a line-up. Also, the way he is placed/cropped to the far right with his shoulder cut off and the large white letters pushing up against him would imply that Karl is in a jam or tight spot, and that a fuller picture of him is lacking.
Regarding the portrait itself, I read it as saying Rove might not be as emotionally (or politically) bulletproof as he tends to propagate.
I sense that Rove’s almost permanent smug expression is just a
little less evident here. It might be me, but I also sense a slight bit
of emotion in Karl’s eyes. The people that take these shots are such
pros, I imagine the photographer wouldn’t let Rove intimidate him or
dictate the terms of his look.
Of course, the photographer didn’t get close to questioning Karl’s
persona, or even breaking through his mask. (Not like the way TIME thoroughly obliterated
the "missing person" known as Anne Coulter back in April) But I think
— with some slight sadness, pain or wistfulness in those eyes; a hint
of a slightly downward gaze in the right eye; a little heaviness in
those eyelids; slightly less enthusiasm in the typically smug pursed
lips; and a trace of weariness in place of his typical joy in
confrontation — the photographer got a slight bit more out of Karl
than Bush’s strategist intended.
But then — at some level — everybody who puts on a contrived face
wishes to be seen through it. Especially if it’s been a long time.