Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 27, 2019

Trump and Reporters on the South Lawn: Getting Stranger by the Day

President Donald Trump announces that he is nominating William Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, as his attorney general, on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

With the death of the White House press briefing and the presidential press conference, these South Lawn encounters are really all that’s left of a regular exchange between Trump and the press.

The scene above, by Evan Vucci, could be called your standard fare — meaning, a picture that is indistinguishable from those conducted over the years with other Commanders in Chief before flying off on Marine One. But, as we know, “standard,” “normal,” or “regular” are not terms that apply to Trump and his presidency, and these driveway encounters haven’t been either.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., on Monday, October 22, 2018. Trump said Congress will vote on a new tax cut for middle-class Americans after the midterm elections, even though Republican lawmakers say they have no such legislation in the works. Photographer: Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If anything, these episodes provide a consistent backdrop against which to observe the president’s oft-repeated moves. In this case, the push back, the keeping inquiring minds at bay, the enforcement of one version of the facts.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding a waiting Marine One on December 7. Trump told reporters he was nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty

This shot by Mark Wilson goes fist in glove with total control. That’s the signal which, depending on the moment and the mood, can stand for: party’s over; I’m sick of you; or the combination.

CNN journalist Abby Phillip asks President Donald Trump a question as he speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Nov. 9. AP photo/Evan Vucci

Still another feature in the rotation was captured on a Friday afternoon last November. That’s when Trump, responding to a question about whatever hot water he was in at the moment, lashed out at CNN journalist Abby Phillips for asking what Trump called “a stupid question.” Then, to dig his white self even deeper, he piled on, saying he had been watching Phillips, and that she (the Harvard grad) asks “a lot of stupid questions.”

But the reason I’m writing this now is because the South Lawn photos have become flat out bizarre lately. Specifically, I’m talking about the shots from last Friday’s encounter, right after the Justice Department assumed authorship over the Mueller Report, and just before Trump headed off to Mar-a-Lago.

If these photos sprinkle a little vinegar, I guess it’s understandable. After all, having your professionalism, your patriotism, and your basic safety thrown in your face on a continuous basis could alter anyone’s sense of composition. Or, it could just be that the photos confirm we’re all sharing a bad acid trip.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Palm Beach, Florida from the White House in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2019.WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr, according to the Justice Department.

In this case, Carlos Barria spares us the insufferable, throwing the main focus, instead, on the press pool’s main prop. In the symbolic realm, those poles can function like tentacles, spider legs, jousting lances. Trump may be the ring master, but devoid of a head, those sticks suggest their own force field.

US President Donald Trump waves as a reporter tries to ask a question while departing the White House on Friday, March 22, 2019. Photo by Olivier Douliery

In Olivier Douliery’s shot last Friday, we get a classic Trump sign off, but we also get the more prominent, reciprocal, disembodied hand. Way back when, reporters simply had to raise their hand and then the President would choose them out and actually answer their question. This hand, “on the other hand,” seems to call out the Coen Brothers. It’s like a media scrum phantom limb; the ghost reflex of the unrequited.

Evan Vucci/AP via Instagram Caption: President Donald Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of The White House in Washington, D.C. March 22, 2019.

And finally, there is this from Evan Vucci.Besides the digit that could kill, there’s the odd element of that tartan embellished hand with the microphone we saw in the Barria pic. Except now, it’s flexed backward. I’d say there are two good explanations for what is happening here. One is that Trump, like an evil sorcerer, is forcing the recording device away with his magic finger. Or, there’s the possibility, channeling the resistance, that the hand and the mic are flexing back to spring back hard the other way.

— Michael Shaw

(Photo 1: Evan Vucci/AP Photo Caption: President Donald Trump announces that he is nominating William Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, as his attorney general, on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, in Washington. Photo 2: Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg via Getty Images  Caption: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., on Monday, October 22, 2018. Trump said Congress will vote on a new tax cut for middle-class Americans after the midterm elections, even though Republican lawmakers say they have no such legislation in the works. Photo 3: Mark Wilson/Getty Images Caption: President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding a waiting Marine One on December 7. Trump told reporters he was nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general. Photo 4: Evan Vucci/AP Photo Caption: CNN journalist Abby Phillip asks President Donald Trump a question as he speaks with reporters  on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Photo 5: Carlos Barria/Reuters Caption: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Palm Beach, Florida from the White House in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2019. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr, according to the Justice Department. Photo 6: Olivier Douliery Caption: US President Donald Trump waves as a reporter tries to ask a question while departing the White House on Friday, March 22, 2019. Photo 7: Evan Vucci/AP Caption: President Donald Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of The White House in Washington, D.C. March 22, 2019.)

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