The account I found most telling in Errol Morris’s interview with three wire service photo editors about the Bush era involves the image above. As Jim Bourg of Reuters explains:
I actually edited this photo there in New York on the scene in 2001. I was looking to put him [Bush] in the context of where he was – that he was literally on the rubble with the firefighters. And it was, frankly, not easy to do just because of the logistics of the photographers and the environment that the photographers were facing in the wreckage. I don’t think the average viewer looking at this picture realizes just how close this photographer is to the president. It’s an extremely wide-angle lens, and he’s literally right in front of him. So the ability to put it in context and show where Bush actually was is really a challenge in this situation.
It’s a challenge, I’d say, that was mostly overcome — except for the fact that Bob Beckwith from Ladder Co. 117 is staring right at the camera, therefore ruining the sanctity (not to mention, the larger propaganda value) of this otherwise near-religious shot.
What’s a relief to know, however, that — through the benefit of optics; and Dubya’s skill as a poser; and the framing of the building; and the “leg up” spirit of the man with the blue hat; and the prayerful countenance of the Chief holding the extra hard hat (as if, for those firemen who no longer needed one anymore) — the wreckage and the other photographers swarming around were transcended successfully enough to place Karl Rove’s client and America’s comforter-in-chief “in the context of where he was.”
Knowing all that, I’d say: sure Bob, go ahead and clap.
(image: Win McNamee: caption: U.S. President George W. Bush talks to retired firefighter Bob Beckwith (R) from Ladder 117 at the scene of the World Trade Center disaster in New York, September 14, 2001)