February 21, 2006

How Karl Rove Took The Drama Out Of The First Bush-Abramoff Photo. (And How He Didn't.)


(click image for full version)

The much anticipated first photo of George Bush and Jack Abramoff together has come and gone.  The question is, who noticed?  If you didn’t, don’t feel bad.  It was designed that way.

According to the NYT summary, the shot was taken at a meeting in May 2001 in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  White House records indicate the event involved a gathering of state legislators who had supported the president’s 2001 tax cut.

To the WH’s professed surprise, however, the image shows Bush greeting Raul Garza, the Chief of the Southwest Texas Kickapoo tribe.  (At the time, Abramoff was trying to land him as a client.)  Among others, the meeting also included Rove, Abramoff and his friend Grover Norquist, the conservative power player and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

What Karl Accomplished:


By releasing a shot with a “tiny Abramoff,” the scale reinforces Bush’s claim that the connection was insignificant.  The fact Little Jack does appear with Bush for the first time, however, both pacifies the press and minimizes the impact of further announcements.  It’s also interesting the first Bush- Abramoff photo also depersonalizes Bush by showing him from the back.


Garza told the NYT he was in possession of at least three different White House photos of this meeting.  There is a more prominent version available right on Garza’s home page.  (I’m not sure that’s him, but Garza’s on-line pic shows a figure just off Bush’s shoulder that looks like Abramoff and is positioned similarly.)  Apparently, nobody has seen the third one.


By releasing the image on a Saturday, the story was written up on Sunday and was almost invisible by Monday.  As “luck” would have it, that was also the weekend of the Cheney shooting.  (More fodder for conspiracy theorists?)

What Karl Finessed:


If anyone was looking for “a smoking gun,” this image provides proof that the White House lied when it originally insisted Abramoff never attended this meeting.


Whereas the media had been looking to connect Bush and Abramoff, the real significance of the image is how it implies a working relationship between Rove and Abramoff.

The presence of Karl and his positioning relative to Jack (both standing against walls at opposite corners) frames the men as co-managers and coordinators of the encounter, having cooperated in supplying their respective clients.  (A few days later, this LAT piece reinforced the connection, including the fact Rove’s current administrative assistant just happens to be Abramoff’s former one.)

(image: White House.  May 2001. Washington.  nyt.com)

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Michael Shaw
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