January 14, 2007

Back To The Post Office


“Tears rolled down US President George Bush’s cheeks as he posthumously honored a US marine hero, just 24 hours after ordering the controversial deployment of an extra 21,500 troops to Iraq.  …How I despise the press.”

“Re: The President’s show of emotion, I wonder if the MSM will pick this up.”

“Who is THAT behind him?”

— Selected comments from the Free Republic message board responding to the image above, and the coverage of Mr. Bush presenting the Medal of Honor, last Thursday, to the family of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham.

*** *** ***

The most contentious entry that ever appeared on this blog is the one I wrote back in March 2006, titled “New Post Office” – link.

Led off by a White House photo which I added a frame to, I was critical of the unceremonious setting in which the President honored the death of Marine hero, Cpl. Jason Dunham.  The picture, presumably taken “on the fly” in an airport lounge in Rochester, New York, showed the President signing a proclamation renaming the soldier’s hometown post office after Cpl. Dunham.  Next to Mr. Bush sat the Corporal’s local congressman, with his family standing behind.

The discussion thread that followed was notable for at least two reasons.

First, several months after the original set of comments, a troller came on and took rather coarse exception to what he perceived as an insensitivity toward the Dunham family.  Having deleted only five or six comments over the previous several years, given the fight that broke out between the flamer and the “regulars,” I felt the need to remove June’s fourteen comments (as well as ban the troller).

The other notable fact, and the reason the policing seemed particularly appropriate (and why, I believe, it elicited such intensity), is because a frustrated Mrs. Dunham, the mother of the honored soldier, was one of the contributers to the original thread.

So, why the history?

Well, as it turns out, it was Cpl. Dunham, represented by his family, who was honored with the Medal of Honor on Thursday — yes, one day after Mr. Bush’s “Iraq Escalation” speech.  And, THAT young man obscured by the President (in this same photo, although slightly more cropped at top and bottom, leading Friday’s Drudge Report, and even larger and even more tightly cropped on the front page of the International Herald Tribune) is Cpl. Dunham’s brother.

The shot of President Bush is a keeper, isn’t it?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned here at The BAG, it’s that, with a little orientation, we can all begin “reading” political images, and to appreciate the power and impact of the media gaze.  In fact, it seems even the Dunham family was so edified by the New Post Office post.

If you read her comment, one thing Mrs. Dunham took from the image and the critique — given just a single pained response by a commenter — was the fact that her family was smiling.  As she writes:

We will note that should we again be in the position were our picture will be taken for public print we will know not to smile.

And in fact, in the Medal of Honor photos I reviewed (I would guess about two dozen, including this one with General Pace, in which Cpl. Dunham’s sister is clearly feeling the pride), the family holds extraordinarily close to the word.

If the Dunham family came into the Medal of Honor experience just a little more media savvy, however, what can we say about the President and his people?  (It’s a lot, I’m afraid — and it’s not very innocent.)

Of course, I can’t wait to see where you go with it.  For my part, however, I’m most interested in the timing of, and past precedence for Thursday’s photo.

Considering that Corporal Dunham’s Medal of Honor was approved by President Bush back on November 10th (a day significant both as the Marine Corps birthday, and what would have been Dunham’s twenty-fifth birthday), it’s interesting the award ceremony didn’t take place until this past Thursday, January 11th.

Yes, of course, the President has one of the busiest schedules in the world.  Still, as only the second Medal of Honor awarded in the whole Gulf War campaign, and after having had to wait an unheard of two-and-a-half years for the award legislation to finally make its way through Congress, why make the Dunham’s endure those extra two months?

In that light, and considering the politics, does anyone else find it interesting this ceremony was looking for a calendar spot during the same period of time the Administration was dramatically plotting, plotting, plotting over exactly when to finally offer up the latest kick-start to Bush’s badly-hobbled Iraq campaign?

More telling to me, however, is the staging for “The Tear” — whether Bush’s emotion was genuine, or not. In this case, the real question is why Rove didn’t wait until the State of the Union Speech to uncork Bush’s emotional portrait (that yes, the MSM sucked up like a vacuum cleaner).  I mean, it was only 13 more days.

In this case, there were three reasons.

One was desperation.  With Bush’s Iraq strategy and his political standing in tatters, he needed the boost right away.  Second, Bush’s “latest plan” received such a build-up, the biggest bang for the buck was to frame “The Tear” in immediate proximity to “The Speech.”

And third, who likes reruns?

The White House could have easily feted Cpl. Dunham as part of the the State of the Union exercise, then honored the Dunham’s during the speech.  Except, the highlighting of a deceased soldier’s family, and the ensuing cut-and-paste of the media narrative to elicit specific national concentration on Bush’s visual reaction is something the White House has already done the last two times.  Here is the ’05 edition,  and here (which I even made note of in the first couple paragraphs) is the ’06 edition.


(BAGnews Cartoon.  September 24, 2001.)

So, please.  Let the freepers despise the press for noting the timing along with the affect, but remember, this is not a Presidency we’re watching — it’s a TV show.  (Why else would the signature photo signify Bush superceding the family — and demonstrate why Cpl. Dunham, himself, was essentially lost in the coverage?)

As for the Dunham family, I appreciate their grace in the face of the politics, I honor the horrendous sacrifice they have suffered for their country, and I wish them peace as they move forward.  Light years from an airport lounge, last week’s setting is what they originally deserved.

(hat tip: John)

(image: Jim Bourg/Reuters. Washington, January 11, 2007. Via YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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