September 5, 2023

Disrupting Trump’s Mug Shot and His “Singular Genius”

Photo composition: PBS, via Reuters handout. Photos: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. A combination picture shows police booking mugshots of former U.S. President Donald Trump and the 18 people indicted with him, including Rudy Giuliani, Ray Smith, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, Cathy Latham, Kenneth Chesebro, David Shafer, John Eastman, Scott Hall, Harrison Floyd, Mark Meadows, Trevian Kutti, Shawn Still, Jeffrey Clark, Michael Roman, Misty Hampton, Stephen Cliffgard Lee and Robert Cheeley.


Moving ahead, the treatment of Trump’s mug shot is vital to consider, given the potential of the case to reshape his public identity.


By Michael Shaw


Not surprisingly, the arrival of an official Trump mug shot has been the media boon that Trump predicted. According to reports, the Trump campaign claimed to have raised over 7 million dollars in the three days after his mugshot was released.

The image has been everywhere, not just as an illustration for news reports of his booking but as a cultural icon. However worthy the flood of media attention might be, what is ironic is how all the singular focus on the image—the completely calculated stare and ugly scowl sucking up prime media real estate—takes the attention away from the groundbreaking element in the long-running Trump saga: his membership in a collective.

Overemphasizing Trump’s mug shot skews the public perception of the case, making it seem more about one individual’s missteps than a complex, multifaceted RICO case. It also detracts from and even contradicts Georgia Attorney General Fani Willis’ unique strategy, choosing to catch him up in a dragnet with almost two dozen others.

Yes, the mug shot was and is worth its weight in gold. But if you examine the more collective visual treatment of Trump’s mug shot, it provides a sobering counterweight to the “lone fighter” narrative.

The conspiracy charges Willis charged present a powerful opportunity to counter Trump’s visual agenda, but only if the media recognizes and embraces it. By charging Trump as a co-conspirator and the driving force behind an organized crime ring, Willis’s RICO case reduces the power of “Trump almighty.” It’s a perception of the man we’ve hardly seen before, reframing Trump from the singular symbol of defiance to a mere member of a rogues’ gallery.

Given Trump’s self-perception as a martyr, his audacious claim that he could commit a public act of violence without consequences, and the remarkable influence of his branding and fundraising machine, the media’s treatment of his mug shot in the Georgia conspiracy case is vital to consider as the case goes forward, especially when the case presents such a challenge to his public persona.

In navigating the complexities of responsible reporting, media outlets have several options for presenting Trump’s mug shot. The first involves placing Trump’s image as a co-equal among the 17 other co-conspirators in a montage. This visual presentation underscores the collective nature of the charges, diluting the impact of Trump’s image and challenging the narrative that he is a solo protagonist in this unfolding legal drama.

Photo composition: Vox Media. Photos: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

Consider the mugshots of Trump and Rudy Giuliani that Vox cleverly juxtaposed in their visual guide to the 19 defendants in the Georgia case following Trump’s arrest. The split shot reduces Trump to parity and a co-conspirator.

Photo composition: The New York Times. Photos: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

The New York Times array emphasizes Trump’s criticality but dilutes his singularity by pairing him with Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, and Sidney Powell. This assemblage subtly underscores the concepts of “team” and “the company you keep.” Reducing him to a group of ringleaders contests his belief in his solitary capability and his continuous ridicule and dismissal of his foot soldiers.

Photo composition: NBC News. Photos: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

NBC News posted the composition above. Trump remains ascendant in the top left position because that is where the eye naturally goes. Still, from a power standpoint, the highest status Trump can achieve here is “first among equals.” It only takes an instant to lose him in the array as the eye naturally wants to engage with the peculiarities of the other expressions.

Photo composition: Bloomberg. Photos: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

The presentation from Bloomberg (above) emphasizes Trump’s pivotal role in the supposed conspiracy. His photo is featured more prominently and centrally than the other defendants, aligning with the structure of the RICO case, where Trump is charged as both a co-conspirator and the leading figure. It is a powerful editorial statement of his pivotal role in the case without sensationalizing it.

Photo composition: KCRA. Photos: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

This layout comes from KCRA, published after the mass indictments but before any arrests. Using stock photography and the generic headline reduces Trump to one of the George 19 and just one more alleged crook. This standard media array of the co-conspirators also highlights how much Trump’s controlled mug shot jumps off the page and steals all the oxygen.

The tendency to publish the Trump mug shot separately from those of his 18 co-conspirators in the Georgia RICO case enables Trump’s perceived ‘singular genius’ and glorifies his role in the alleged conspiracy. It not only rallies his followers and fuels his fundraising efforts, but the image has become the centerpiece in his cult of personality.

Rather than publishing the mugshot on its own, the media should focus on the group as a whole, highlighting the collective responsibility. Going forward, the treatment of the image is vital to consider, given the potential of the case to reshape Trump’s public identity.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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