Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
June 25, 2015

Two Rambos, and that New Treasure Trove of Bush – Cheney White House Photos

I’m still working my way through the 2,500+ photos the National Archives were compelled to release to PBS based on a Freedom of Information Act request. They have been posted on the Flickr site of the National Archives and you can find the nine albums here. If you’re not familiar with the practice, beyond the images White House editors decide in real time to released to the press, the public and their own social platforms these days, each presidential administration is required to submit their body of photos to the archive.

This mountain of photos that was  just turned over has much to offer from a general historical standpoint; as forensic data in the controversial conduct of BushCo.’s “terror war”; and in further illuminating the culture and the personalities inside that White House.

On first pass, I was reminded of the conflict between the media and the Obama administration in late 2013. If you recall, the press challenged the White House for doling out what were effectively propaganda photos directly to media and social media. As part of the protest, traditional media clamored for their own photographers to have more direct and intimate access to the White House and the President. In this post, however, writer, producer and Bag contributor, David Campbell, expressed reservation. Campbell didn’t think that greater access or more independent access would necessarily lead to anything more informative or genuine. Which brings me to the photos above….

What’s great about these images the National Archives were forced to release is just how politically incorrect they are. In the first, we see Bush and Cheney having a good laugh back in February 2002 (five months after 9/11 and in the heat of the so-called “War on Terror“) over the administration being likened to Rambo on a Der Spiegel cover. In the second photo we see Cheney aides, David Addington, and John Hannah, in the Veep’s office on February 15, 2008, the latter making the gesture of shooting a gun. Even if this photo was taken two years later, the incident in which Cheney accidentally shot his friend and hunting colleague, Harry Whittington, was such a defining and publicized event, it’s hard not to view this image as somehow referencing and making light of that.

As Campbell emphasized, greater access doesn’t do much good if what it yields are just better or closer views of the key players posing or acting. The best evidence of that is this rare chance to see such glib photos of these war hawks, image that would have otherwise been so buried or dated, they would hardly have seen the light of day.

(photos: White House/Bush Administration via the National Archives)

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