January 15, 2013

White House Gun Battle: Taking Aim with Photographs

One thing we refer to quite a bit here is how the White House uses daily photographs as a targeted form of advocacy. Those images typically contain some kind of symbolism, be it the painting on the wall or some kind of object or prop. Other times, there is something about the presence and gesture of a participant that brings with it a particular backstory and poignancy.

Certainly, the White House knows its got a tough fight on its hands to bring tougher gun regulations and legislation to the country. At the same time, the Administration knows that, in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, a rash of gun violence, the permissiveness of gun ownership and the entitlement and tin ear of the gun lobby, that the times are ripe for change.  With all that in mind, photography is one of the key tools in the White House campaign right now.  Case in point:

This photo was published a week ago on the White House blog. It illustrates a post about a meeting between the Biden task force, victims’ groups and gun safety organizations. Annette Nance-Holt’s son’s Blair had been shot and killed while riding a school bus.

Far more subtle and prominent, however, is the photo above tweeted yesterday by Biden’s office.  It’s not only a very strategic image but one the White House seems to be selling as (and might actually represent) a tipping point.

With an degree of intensity and compassion you rarely encounter in such images, the gravity of the moment is accentuated by the rare White House photo released in black-and-white. The focus of the picture is Michigan Congressman John Dingle.  Although we don’t know what he’s saying at the moment, what we generally know about the context is enough. John Dingell, 86, in his 30th term of office, is a former board member of the NRA and A+ rated by NRA, an enthusiastic hunter and long-time member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. That same John Dingell is now Vice Chairman of the Gun Violence Protection task force set up in the House last month by Speaker Pelosi six days after  the Newtown shooting. (Perhaps evident of where sentiment in trending in the Dingell household right now, Debbie Dingle wrote this op-ed in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago talking about her father trying to shoot her mother when she was 12.)

Rachel Maddow also spent some time yesterday discussing the photo, referencing  the presence of Janet Napolitano (who is staying on for a second term as Sec. of Homeland Security). Maddow noted she’s a former governor of Arizona, home of Gabby Giffords, the “out and proud” supporter of the 2nd amendment who now says reform and 2nd amendment support are not mutually exclusive. Next to Napolitano is Rep. Elisabeth Esty, Connecticut’s 5th congressional district (Newtown, Sandy Hook). In between Dingell and John Conyers is Mike Thompson (D-CA), another gun owner and gun rights supporter. Thompson recently spoke at a Mayor’s “divest in gun companies” press conference recently with Rahm Emmanuel.

It’s hard to say how things play out, but typical of Obama’s emphasis on consensus and common ground,  it’s quite the suggestion of a shifting tide.

(photo: White House via Twitter.com/VP caption: VP meets with House members & Cabinet officials today at the WH to discuss efforts to curb gun violence.)(photo: David Lienemann/White House caption: Annette Nance-Holt with a photo of her son Blair who was killed riding the bus home from school, attends a meeting chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, with gun safety advocates and victims, to develop policy proposals as part of the Administration’s response to the Newtown shootings and other tragedies, in the Cordell Hull Conference Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 9, 2013.)

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Michael Shaw
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