Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 11, 2017

Russian Oval Office Pix: Team Trump Done in by “Dual Hatter”

President Trump gestures to Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, as he speaks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday. photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images

I’m not sure why there was much confusion about yesterday’s Russian photographs of Lavrov and Kislyak with Trump in the Oval Office. Did the White House consciously and intentionally bar the domestic visual press corps from the meeting? Were there actually multiple Russian photographers there?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post for CJR about the White House’s photographic ineptitude. The main point was that, for despite all Trump’s concern with appearances, this White House remains stunningly inept about visual communication protocols and procedures, as well as the emotional and tactical  use of images.

Let’s not ascribe intent or malice in the place of deluded bumbling. As far as the White House thought, the meeting was supposed to be private, except that the Russians said they were bringing an official photographer so Trump team invited theirs. The fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry posts obsessively to a Flickr page, or Russia has been playing Trump all along, or there is no Russian division between media and state, or Russia would use the photos for something other than a thank you card seemed to escape the Trump communicators entirely.

Given that cluelessness, you’ve got to love this administration quote (via WAPO):

“We were not informed by the Russians that their official photographer was dual-hatted and would be releasing the photographs on the state news agency.” 

Excuse me if the statement reminded me of the “Mad Hatted.” It’s the same ignorance that caused a political uproar after Trump’s meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister during the transition, given Ivanka Trump’s prominent presence. In that instance, Mr. Abe showed up with a photographer and a translator, and the photos were distributed the next day as official handouts of the Japanese Government Press Office. 

Nothing like learning from your mistakes.

Of course, the Russian photographer didn’t walk in the door with a TASS sticker on his lapel. From media reports, it also wasn’t clear whether the photographer, Alexander Shcherbak, was working for the news agency or was just the Foreign Minister’s Pete Souza. TPM sussed this out in an email exchange with the TASS Washington bureau chief, discovering that the TASS photographer “is permanently assigned to cover FM Lavrov.”

That might be a twist, but it’s something a professional White House communications outfit would have either known already, or would have checked out in advance. Either way, the fact the White House never considered that the Russians would use the photos to their advantage and publish them in the state media is simply incompetent. Or stated another way, simply par for the course.

As for the editing, the picture leading the post (red meat for the your favorite investigative committee) gives off the vibe that Trump, Lavrov and the toxic Kislyak are pals from way back.

President Trump with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday. photo: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images

This second shot is almost the opposite. Like they have Trump sized and they aren’t even listening.

— Michael Shaw

(photos: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images. caption 1: President Trump gestures to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, as he speaks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday.)

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