As the Trump 100 day benchmark has been analyzed into oblivion, it seems the last vital question outstanding is: just who was Kellyanne taking those infamous photos of and for?
Earlier this week, I wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review focusing on the White House’s photographic ineptitude. As part of that analysis, I touched on “Couch Gate,” the firestorm resulting from Trump counselor and PR top gun, Kellyanne Conway, parking herself on the Oval Office couch to photograph black college administrators with her iPhone. In a fresh angle on the incident, I discuss how Conway actually got in the way of the White House photographer, her rogue image making indicative of a White House lacking in procedure and everyone out for him or herself.
While the media photos of Couch Gate were circulated and remarked on to death back in February, however, what has still never been explained is why Conway felt the need to take her own photographs of the black college representatives in the first place.
Did she think that the pool of five top D.C. photographers — representing AP, Reuters, The New York Times and ISP — couldn’t get the job done? Or, did she think she could take a better shot than Shealah Craighead, the White House photographer? If you look at this photo by NY Times photographer, Stephen Crowley, you’ll see Craighead, in the brown jacket and black sleeve, attempting to do her job in spite the havoc in the room and Conway’s freelancing.
Given the magnitude of the Couch Gate backlash, some kind of response was called for.
In an interview on the controversy with Lou Dobbs, Conway explained her actions, but she only went so far. Seeking to legitimize her behavior, she insisted she wasn’t being self-serving or disrespectful. Instead, she explained she was simply taking the photos for a person who had requested them. As regards her checking the pictures, she said she wasn’t just indulging in a review but was actually captured in the act of sending them to the requestor. But agin, who were the photos for? She seems to carefully avoid that disclosure as she talked to Dobbs. But wouldn’t the disclosure, if reasonable, have perhaps helped her cause? What if, for example, she had been asked for a snap by one of the college administrators?
But Conway remained mum on that.
I think Conway was dead to rights because the photos were for Trump aide Omarosa Manigault. From innumerable news accounts, and just as much, from the photo of Conway and Priebus leading the post, the scene in the Oval Office was chaotic. That’s because the college leaders were in the middle of a meeting with the Vice President when Trump appeared and, on impulse, invited the entire group to jump up and see the Oval Office. Having responsibility for the visit, Manigault was still buzzing around while the media photographers were documenting the signing of an Executive Order in support of America’s black colleges and universities.
Perhaps Manigault, missing that opportunity to pose behind Trump and the leaders, wanted her own photo of herself with Trump and the administrators?
Or, maybe she wanted a visual keepsake, one more intimate than the news photos, or the White House photographer’s more distant group portrait as we seen in the Instagram below.
If you consider the specific angle Conway was going for, you can see Manigault (just off Trump’s left shoulder now in the red dress and black jacket) looking toward Conway. What you can also see is Manigault smiling at the moment most of the others were taking a pause, several figures looking beyond Conway toward the back of the room, taking their cue from the White House photographer.
To get a better sense of the plausibility, and the line-of-sight, I’ve cropped the same AFP/Getty Image photo you see above.
If Conway was making the photo for Manigault, that would explain why she didn’t name names when talking to Dobbs. The knowledge she was snapping the pic for her fellow communications staffer would have only intensified the anger over a self-serving White House and strengthened those accusations that the college executives were being used as props.
So perhaps we should we ask to see Omarosa’s computer? Or better yet, maybe we should just ask Director Comey. If we never find out what drove Conway to the couch, however, not to worry. There are plenty more trainwrecks ahead.
— Michael Shaw
(photo 1: Brendan Smialowski/AFP. caption: Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus ((2nd-L) direct leaders of historically black universities and colleges for a photo with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House before a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence February 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. photo 2: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times. caption: Kellyanne Conway checked her phone on the couch while President Trump invited officials from historically black colleges and universities to join him in the Oval Office on Monday. photo 3 & 4: Jim Watson/AFP. caption: Donald Trump (C) holds up an executive order to bolster historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 28, 2017. photo 5 & 6: Brendan Smialowski/AFP. caption: Kellyanne Conway taking a photo as US President Donald Trump and leaders of historically black universities and colleges talk before a group photo in the Oval Office.)