Reality Show President: Inside the White House PR Machine

"Reality Show President: Inside the White House PR Machine," produced by Todd Krainin. About 12 minutes.

Original release date was May 9, 2014 and original writeup is below.

"I am who the media says I am. I say what they say I say. I become who they say I've become."—Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, 2006.

"Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."—Barack Obama, 2009.

Which Barack Obama is telling the truth here? Writing as a U.S. senator from Illinois, Obama laments that there will always be a barrier—the independent media—between him and the people he serves. As a public figure, his identity will be created by reporters and critics that he cannot control, distorted by the lenses of photographers who don't answer directly to him. 

Only three years later, as commander in chief, President Obama took a far more trusting tone with the media. In his earliest speeches, he promised an administration of unparalleled openness, access, and integrity. Indeed, he asserted he was running "the most transparent administration in history" just four months before Edward Snowden spilled the beans on the National Security Agency.

"The White House has effectively become a broadcast company," says Michael Shaw, publisher of Bagnewsnotes.com, a site dedicated to the analysis of news images. Shaw explains how strategically composed photos, taken by official White House photographers, travel from social media sites that are controlled by the administration to the front pages of newspapers around the world.

The press publishes the official White House photographs because independent photographers and videographers  are increasingly barred from covering the president. This practice has diminished the power of the independent media as an exclusive distribution channel while empowering official photographers such as Pete Souza, who are on the presidential payroll.  

And so, says Shaw, the public has been fed a steady diet of whatever kind of president the news cycle demands. When conspiracy theorists questioned Obama's patriotism, we saw images of Obama the American everyman. To celebrate the anniversary of Rosa Parks' 1955 refusal to move to the back of a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, we saw Obama reenact her famous image. Time and again, we see Obama striking poses out of John F. Kennedy's repertoire. The official White House photographers have created a presidential identity for every conceivable occasion—as long as the image is flattering, and almost always, larger than life.

While presidents have always sought to control their image, Shaw and many in the press say that Obama has restricted media access to an unparalleled degree. As the AP's director of photography wrote last year in The New York Times, the Obama administration has "systematically tried to bypass the media by releasing a sanitized visual record of his activities through official photographs and videos, at the expense of independent journalistic access."

Media boycotts of official photographs have been ineffective in persuading the president to live up to his promise of transparency. It is only by a tradition of public openness, not law, that photographers have enjoyed access to the official business of the president. So we could revert to the practice before the JFK administration, when photographers were mostly kept away from the inner workings of the White House.

Short of generating public outrage, there is little the independent media can do. "Because [the White House] can distribute directly through all these different [new and old media] channels," says Shaw, "there's really not much downside to it, there's not much accountability."

All over the world, heads of state are producing idealized versions of their own identities on social media, a technology that empowers leaders every bit as much as the rest of us. Heads of state and politicians are increasingly free to project their own self-image directly to the public, with less accountability than ever from an independent press. From the White House on YouTube to Ten Downing Street on Flickr to Bashar al-Assad's Instagram page, we may never see our politicians in the way that we did just a few years ago.

About 12 minutes. 

Produced, shot, and edited by Todd Krainin.

All still photography from the White House.

Music by Chris Zabriskie, Lee Rosevere, Kevin MacLeod, and Setuniman at FreeSound.

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  • Virginian||

    Obama laments that there will always be a barrier—the independent media—between him and the people he serves. As a public figure, his identity will be created by reporters and critics that he cannot control, distorted by the lenses of photographers who don't answer directly to him.

    Yeah but when they're on your side, creating a positive narrative for you, that's a good thing.

  • ||

    The most. Transparent. Administration. In history.

    (drops mic, stalks off stage)

  • XM||

    Why is everyone so obsessed with "transparency" of this administration.

    Because Obama is BLACK, and transparent things tend to be not black. So we're all racists.

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    again: lol Habs

  • Slammer||

    Blowouts in Game Ones are always weird. It seems to motivate the losers, because they feel humiliated. Then they play twice as hard going forward. Or they feel totally fucked and get blown out the rest of the way.

  • Bobarian||

    "Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."—Barack Obama, 2009.

    "We touched those stones. They were hot and had jagged edges. We're not touching them again."--Barack Obama, About 5 minutes later.

  • Hydra||

    Not to minimize the suckitude of all things Obama, but there weren't any pictures of FDR showing his wheelchair either. This isn't really a new thing.

    And if the MSM is pissed about not getting independent photography access, maybe they should retaliate by, you know, doing their job and covering one of the several scandals this administration is guilty of. Don't need photography access to cover Fast And Furious.

  • Loki||

    maybe they should retaliate by, you know, doing their job and covering one of the several scandals this administration is guilty of

    You mean all those FAKE SKANDULZ that Beckerheads and other wingnuts keep trying to gin up? Also, BOOOOOOOSSSSSSSHHHHH!!!11!!!! /PB

  • Slammer||

  • fuck you tulpa||

    .

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Dumbya set up a Potemkin Ranch in Crawford, TX to cast an image of him as a brush-clearing everyman cowboy.

    He has never gone back to that ranch after it filled its role as prop.

  • ||

    Still with the Bush. How tiresome.

    Sometimes I think the insults we throw at you just don't do justice.

  • Bobarian||

    According to the NY Times, you are a liar.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04......html?_r=0

  • Skip||

    Thats what happens when you depend on Daily Kos for your political news.

  • ||

    You totally screwed that up. You should have bet that if you could prove him wrong that he had to let Reason ban him for life.

    Then you drop the link on him.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "Transparently undermining the rule of law will be the touchstone of this presidency."

  • GILMORE||

    ""I am who the media says I am. I say what they say I say. I become who they say I've become."—Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, 2006.

    ... Writing as a U.S. senator from Illinois, Obama laments that there will always be a barrier—the independent media—between him and the people he serves"

    In hindsight, this does not seem so much a 'lament' as a 'boast'; or a celebration of the fact of the essential malleability of who he "is".

    Some horrible academic person who's read Saussure/Lacan/Derrida (and actually understands all of it) might suggest that Obama is merely confessing that he is only a 'signifier' that everyone else gives meaning to. This would be a laudable degree of 'self-awareness' of the absence of 'self'.

    I also think the word 'independent' is maybe mistakenly used here. 'Symbiotic' might be more appropriate.

  • GILMORE||

    I also think the word 'serves' really deserves re-examination as well.

  • Bobarian||

    To Serve Man?

  • GILMORE||

    ITS A COOKBOOK!

  • newshutz||

    Isn't Obama plagiarizing an Eminem rap?

  • GILMORE||

    Yes, but Eminem totally bit MC Popeye

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I think he views us as his "servants".

  • ||

    I don't have a problem with Obama trying to control his image. I wish there was more to him than just an image.

  • Skip||

    Its funny that the press who took nothing but Messiah-like pictures of the guy in 2008 is whining that they aren't taken seriously.

  • Pathogen||

    Its funny that the press painstakingly built up his Messiah-like image, forsaking any inkling of objectivity, in order to foist their vision of the perfect president upon their fellow Americans. They created him, his legend, and his lore, and they are inexorably connected to him... his rise.. and inevitable fall. They cannot separate themselves from him anymore then they could cut off their own arms. They will smokescreen and obfuscate, not only on his behalf, but also their own. They have managed to shed all their last vestiges of credibility keeping their creation from destroying himself, as he has slowly destroyed them... They cannot bare the thought of admitting their responsibility for his failures, as they are by extension, their own.

  • RishJoMo||

    Its over there somewhere dude, I mean it man.

    www.YourAnon.tk

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