March 2, 2006

The Perp-fect Storm (Or: Amerka's Not So Funniest Presidential Home Videos)



By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the damning video clip of Bush’s Katrina teleconference with Michael Brown that was released yesterday afternoon.  (Crooks and Liars has the video.)

If you follow this site, you know that — for all the profound, destined-to-be-historical pictures that land here — I don’t throw around a lot of superlatives.  Well today, that’s out the window.  Not from an aesthetic standpoint, of course, but from a political one, I found this picture absolutely stunning.  For visual significance, I’d give it Abu Ghraib level impact.  It reminds me of the disclosure of the Nixon’s tapes.

How can I possibly make such comparisons?

Day, month and year in and out, I’ve been looking at images of and by the Administration.  The level of visual control over these images is not only extreme, it hardly seems to vary.  Then today, completely out of the blue, comes this.  I don’t know how the AP got their hands on this tape, but I’m sure Alberto Gonzales himself is already out there hunting for them.

Anyway, let’s start with where this image was taken.  For a long time, I thought this was a room in Bush’s ranch.  Actually though, I think it’s a trailer set up specifically for communications.  (The way they prettied it up with the wood siding and the photographs makes it hard to tell — of course.)  Anyway, the first time I saw this room was in this shot, taken in 2002, featuring Bush looking at papers with Harriet Miers and then Deputy Chief of Staff, Joe Hagin.  The pic you need to see to fully appreciate today’s image, however, was taken during another teleconference, that one a National Security Council meeting featuring General John Abizaid.

Now, back to the shot of the day.

Consider the context, first.  The image is a true “smoking gun,” revealing Bush shmoozing his ultra-brief way through a four alarm warning from friend “Brownie” about the storm of a lifetime.  (But, when it’s late for nap time….)  Solely on its visual characteristics, the image has a damning feel.  It’s not just that Bush looks as fuzzy, remote, small and distant as the the situation itself proves him to be.  It’s that, for the first time, we see Bush free of any spin control or editorial filtering by Karl Rove or any other PR flunkies.

And what are the primary visual references evoked from this clandestine scene?  How about, leader of the free world meets 7-11 shoplifting cam?  Or, Prez caught on undercover surveillance video?  (Maybe the AP should have run the tape by the FISA court first.)  What about, President in a box? Or closet? (Physically, the space itself seems to evoke a cheap hotel room used for drug deals, or one of those cop TV show interrogation rooms.)  More powerful than all, however, is the read in which the viewer (finally) look down on Bush while he must answer to us.  In the meantime, he sits under those lights like he’s some kind of perp (or meatloaf under the heat lamp in some Texas road side diner).

Lastly, I love how this scene finally reveals the indentured White House photographer — shown here crammed into the corner trying to find enough space for a respectable shot like the one linked to above.  It’s a pretty straightforward gig, actually.  You just take a guy who is fundamentally disinterested in work and make him look completely winning at it.

Well, this time you’re busted!

For More Bush/Katrina Retrospective, See The BAG‘s Coverage: The Week America Lost New Orleans: A Presidential Retrospective (link).

(image: AP.  March 1, 2006.  via

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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