Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 21, 2017

Saudis Up First: Trump With Extra Butter

photo: evanvucci/instagram. #President #donaldtrump poses for photos with Gulf country leaders in Riyadh.

Everything you want to know about the host’s playbook for the President’s first overseas trip you can read in the NYT’s Tips for Leaders Meeting Trump. It offers bite-sized points including: keep things short; don’t dwell on facts or history; don’t make an issue out of anything Trump says; and give him things to take credit for. If you were paying attention (we were tweeting like crazy on Saturday), you’ll see the Saudi’s thoroughly outdid themselves. I offer you a small sampling.

The photo above by Evan Vucci is very smart. It frames Trump as the curmudgeon he is (especially with the hot mess he left back home). At the same time, it shows how the Saudis, like sorcerers (in other words, 100 billion dollar arms whisperers), know how to transcend the funk and bring him along.

Pictures of President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are projected on the front of the Ritz-Carlton, where Trump is staying in Riyadh. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

At every turn, the Saudis hit Trump with the maximum amount of glitz. These projections on the Ritz-Carlton make it easy to mistakeRiyadh with Las Vegas.

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (R), flanked by fellow senior advisor Steve Bannon (L) and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, attends a signing ceremony between Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Royal Court in Riyadh. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

I love this shot for the power dynamic. Being Trump’s golden boy in a land completely familiar with royal families does wonders for the jet lag. Even if the impression is completely off base, Kushner seems to lord it over the second tier.

Trump opens Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology with Egypt's al-Sissi, Saudi Arabia's Salman. Screenshot via Washington Post video.

It’s the photo that won the internet on the second day of the trip. Everybody was tripping over the magic orb. Like this social media clip from Al Jazzera emphasizes though, it’s way too easy to get carried away by mockery or spectacle:

He’s a clip of the awesome Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology. Specifically though, the photo has at least two important elements. One is the situating of the map. Pandering to Trump and the U.S., it reinforces the perception that America is the only terror target that matters. Second, it captures the growing relationship, among the President’s growing affinity for autocrats, between Trump and Egypt’s el-Sisi who figured prominently into the visit. Yeah, like a despotic laying on of hands.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud presents U.S. President Donald Trump with the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal as first lady Melania Trump watches, at the Royal Court in Riyadh. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

This picture at least tied for the most buzz.

Did Trump bow? Did he curtsy? Did he prostrate himself more or less than Obama did? Again, mindful of the point about substance, what we can say for sure is that the Kingdom hit a grand slam laying that much hardware on the susceptible one. (Seeing more close up versions, I was also impressed by that time piece the King was wearing. Finally, in a number of photos, the buckle on the belt tying together the regionally-attuned tunic Melania was wearing looks like a gold “T.”

No international POTUS trip is complete without a couple of gems from Stephen Crowley. The Saudis outdid themselves drawing Trump and Tillerson into a sword dance. The whole visit wreaked of male domination, and Trump is already so tribal. When I first saw it, I also thought about the political sword hanging over Trump’s head, and how extra-good it must have felt for him to get to strut around with his own long knife 6,700 miles away from Comey and Muller.

Then, this one is great also. The guy’s expression is just too easy to equate with owning the show. You could almost imagine an elaborate plan to keep moving the flags on cue, like every time Trump moved ten feet, the flags did too.

— Michael Shaw

(photo 1: Evan Vucci/Instagram caption: #President #donaldtrump poses for photos with Gulf country leaders in Riyadh. https://www.instagram.com/evanvucci/?hl=en.photo 2 & 3: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters caption 2: Pictures of President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are projected on the front of the Ritz-Carlton, where Trump is staying in Riyadh. caption 3: White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (R), flanked by fellow senior advisor Steve Bannon (L) and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, attends a signing ceremony between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Royal Court in Riyadh. photo 4: Screenshot via Washington Post video. caption: Trump opens Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology with Egypt’s al-Sissi, Saudi Arabia’s Salman.. photo 5: Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS. caption: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud presents U.S. President Donald Trump with the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal as first lady Melania Trump watches, at the Royal Court in Riyadh.)

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