Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 27, 2017

Throwing Russian Flags at Trump

President Trump gestures to reporters as Russian flags thrown from a protester fall in front of him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as they arrive for the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

It wasn’t the most important scene in D.C. this week, but it was certainly the most provocative. If you missed it, the display occurred while Trump and Speaker McConnell were passing the media pool on their way to a Republican tax luncheon in the Capitol. Suddenly, Ryan Clayton of Americans Take Action, an activist with a history of antagonizing the GOP with the object in question, launched Trump-branded Russian flags from the middle of the press pack. (Greg Nash’s Instagram offers a splendid view of  Clayton, who, if you ask me, looks a little like Jared Kushner).

Like the visual equivalent of a skeet shoot, and as you’d expect they would, the phalanx of D.C. photographers captured the scene from every angle in glorious stop action. Depending on the exact composition, different frames have different connotations. The AP’s J. Scott Applewhite (above) seemed to hinge one of the flags to Trump’s ear.

In Kevin Dietsch’s shot, the flags look more like banners. Hail to the Kremlin, those two (top left) might as well have been hanging from the wall:

In Matt McClain’s Instagram, the flags look like birds:

I was mostly drawn to this one by Joshua Roberts though:

President Trump gestures to reporters as Russian flags thrown from a protester fall in front of him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as they arrive for the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

It’s clearly the most aggressive, if not obviously so.

I understand that Clayton’s action was designed to shame Trump. The aim, literally, was to visually connect him (or re-connect him and the public) to the Russia controversy and the allegations that his campaign colluded with the Russians to throw the election. The thing, though, is that Trump is shameless — and, so far at least, unaccountable for anything. It’s that abject, and so far Teflon-like defiance which disarms these photos, which renders them superfluous. Thus, my comment on social media: The most subversive thing you can do to Trump, so far, is to get between him and the camera.

Under different circumstances, the action could have been fraught. You’ll recall the scene at the prime minister’s palace in Baghdad in late ’08 in which an Iraqi journalist heaved his shoes at Bush. Using a loafer as a projectile is the most condemnatory statement you can make in that part of the world.

Maybe Mr. Clayton’s gesture would have been more effective six months ago when the Russia story still dominated the news. And it might yet rival the Bush scene if timed to explosive findings of the Mueller investigation. Otherwise, I’d say the effort was doomed from the start. To Trump, a largely vaporous figure and the greater provocateur, this is just more confetti. In substance, the flags had nowhere to land.

— Michael Shaw

(Photo 1: J. Scott Applewhite/AP. Photo 2: Joshua Roberts/Reuters. Caption: President Trump gestures to reporters as Russian flags thrown from a protester fall in front of him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as they arrive for the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill.)

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