Obama Administration

A Look Inside Obama's PR Machine

"I am who the media says I am." - Barack Obama, 2006.

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"Reality Show President: Inside the White House PR Machine" was produced by Todd Krainin and was released on May 9, 2014. Here's the original write up:

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

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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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  1. “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.

    Not so much touchstones as kicked in the stones.

    1. He meant to say “kIckstones.”

  2. Oh come on, give em a break. Given the last six years of this administration, Obama needs to feel like he’s in control of something.

  3. Barack Obama: When Lying Liars Lie through Their Lying Teeth

    -by Barack Obama

    Expected to hit bookstores everywhere January, 2017!

  4. OT:

    Obama administration is such a failure on foreign policy that Hillary Clinton is officially distancing herself from them.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/int…..picks=true

    Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

    1. ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

      Well maybe not, but beats the hell out of whatever they’re using now as an organizing principle.

    2. I am really looking forward to a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign just to watch to see the reaction from the various leftist talking heads when her camp starts throwing Obama and his wing of the party under every bus they can get in range of.

    3. Do Stupid Stuff” seems to be the principle they follow on everything.

    4. Hillary:

      ” We should have armed ISIS in Syria, so that they wouldn’t have gone into Iraq”

      Top Woman there.

      Oh, and was Chris Stevens murdered as part of the arming of ISIS?

      1. Shhhh! It’s the most natural thing in the work for a consulate to have a “CIA Annex” full of armed operators. This isn’t the illegal operation you’re looking for.

    5. She seems to be really concerned about Islamic extremists. But for the life of me, I can’t see the existential threat it poses that other people seem so worried about. Yes, we should take reasonable steps to make sure jihadists don’t blow up planes, or crash them in to buildings. And it would be good if they didn’t cause energy prices to increase. But beyond that, what threat do they really pose? Do the Hillary Clintons of the world really know something we don’t? Is the threat really that much larger than it seems?

      I feel sorry for the innocent people that have to live (or die) under their insane rule, but the last 13 years have pretty well demonstrated that the U.S. can’t do much about that. If we beat back the jihadists, the sectarians start to kill each other. And then the jihadists come back.

      There is historical precedent for what the U.S. can do to help people caught in oppression and violence — make it easier for them to escape to someplace better (like the U.S.). Fighting Islamic extremism everywhere it pops up — that’s a losing battle.

      1. I think there’s a belief, whether true or not, that those who seek to establish a caliphate particularly upset regional order and stability due to their perceived expansionist aims.

        1. The Caliphate will undoubtably burn itself out and implode, but not before they kill a lot of people.

          It’s probably better to stop them before they become capable of killing of killing even more people.

          1. But how? I have yet to see a credible strategy. It’s either half measures that won’t do much good, or doubling down on the same ideas that caused this and other messes over the last several decades.

            If the only thing that is going to convince the different sects to work together is the threat of their own mutual destruction, well, then maybe in the long run that’s what’s needed. It took two world wars, but Europeans eventually learned to stop killing each other. I’m not suggesting a genocidal war is desirable, or that it has to get to that point. But if outside actors are always swooping in to try to save the day, then the different sects don’t have much incentive to work together. And ultimately, that is what is needed for stability in the Middle East.

            1. As an example, on NPR today someone in the Libyan government (such as it is) was almost begging the West for help in combating extremists there. Not in the form of military intervention, of course. Just training. And logistical support. And technology. And weapons.

              But no amount of training and supplies is going to solve the root problem. Only the people who live in these places can do that.

              1. “But no amount of training and supplies is going to solve the root problem. Only the people who live in these places can do that.”

                People who think that dying in the right cause gets you hot chicks are entirely too stupid to be affected by training and supplies.
                When they start laughing at cartoons instead of killing people over them, they can call us back and we’ll see. Until then may the worst of your sorry culture be the last to die off.

                1. People who think that dying in the right cause gets you hot chicks are entirely too stupid to be affected by training and supplies.

                  Fortunately, bullets and bombs still affect those people.

                  1. “Fortunately, bullets and bombs still affect those people.”

                    Yes, and I’ll hope those in Europe who are so threatened will decide to spend some of their money to deal with the problem.
                    I’m tired of spending mine.

              2. But no amount of training and supplies is going to solve the root problem. Only the people who live in these places can do that.

                I agree if the people who live there won’t solve their own problems, nothing is going to get done. But there are three interrelated questions.

                1) Can we help them get to where they need to be?

                2) Should we help them get to where they need to be?

                3) What is the best strategy to help them get to where they need to be?

                Unfortunately, those three questions are not easy to answer. And complicating the matter is the answers change with every situation.

                1. “2) Should we help them get to where they need to be?”

                  They are welcome to ort books and web sites. They are not welcome to our treasure to do so.

                  1. Playing devil’s advocate here.

                    They are welcome to ort books and web sites. They are not welcome to our treasure to do so.

                    What if spending a billion now would keep us from spending a trillion later on. For example ISIS has an explicitly expansionist agenda. We stop them in Iraq/Syria, we stop them permanently. Otherwise we might have to work a lot harder and longer stopping them later.

            2. But how? I have yet to see a credible strategy. It’s either half measures that won’t do much good, or doubling down on the same ideas that caused this and other messes over the last several decades.

              Bush’s biggest mistake was thinking that we could impose democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of just supporting a new dictator more amenable to the US.

      2. LynchPin1477: I am one of those people who take the threat of Islamic extremism very seriously. Contrary to Sudden, they don’t have “perceived expansionist aims.” They feel they have a religious duty to take over the world, and they make Communists seem rational and cautious.

        It is perhaps only a matter of time before they get their hands on a nuke, or some biological or chemical weapons, and do something that makes 9/11 seem like a mere opening act. E.g.: put a nuke on a medium-range missile on a ship, sail it to the US, launch the missile to explode above the Eastern seaboard, and the EMP could destroy all non-hardened electronics, including the whole electrical grid, for a third of the country. How well do think entire states would handle a blackout lasting many months?

        Success breeds success. Every time the jihadis have a major victory, they get more followers and money and power. Fighting them is not without risks and unintended consequences, but “ignore them and maybe they’ll go away” is not a practical response to a movement of millions of people who want to destroy Western civilization.

        1. “Success breeds success. Every time the jihadis have a major victory, they get more followers and money and power.”

          They have had no “major success” in years and there is no indication they can in the future. These are backward people. Yes, they can train a couple of people to sneak on planes when we were not aware.
          Your “perhaps” is correct; it allows the most likely alternative that they will continue to fail at anything other than idjits who blow themselves up.
          In fact, I think we need to ship them wearable explosives!

          1. I’d say the takeover of a big chunk of Iraq counts as a major success which has brought them more followers and money and power.

      3. Most importantly, what can realistically be done about it? U.S. soldiers spent a decade training the Iraqi army, and the first resistance they faced, they dropped their weapons, turned their tails, and ran.

        Short of John McCain’s “plan” to spend the next 100 years there with massive troop levels, at a cost of trillions of dollars and untold lives, to defend a country the majority of Iraqis are – at best – ambivalent about.

    6. As she writes in her memoir of her State Department years, Hard Choices, she was an inside-the-administration advocate of doing more to help the Syrian rebellion. Now, her supporters argue, her position has been vindicated by recent events.

      The presumptuousness and utter cluelessness of these people is fucking astonishing. They complain about Bush going into Iraq, but think placing a region as volatile as the Middle East in further turmoil by encouraging rebellions is going produce a peaceful European-style liberal democracy.

      You’d think they’d have looked back on the last 4000 years or so of Orientalism and realized that the region tends to be stable only when there’s a culturally dominant empire overseeing everything. Instead when things go completely in the opposite direction from their expectations, they cry out, “How on earth did this happen? We must not have done enough!”

  5. Hmmm.. Just kind of hit me that it appears that Reason has truly tamed the squirrels. I didn’t think it was possible, but I haven’t seen a triple 3pm post or had a reply I spent five minutes crafting get sucked into a vortex in a while now.

    1. Yeah, no. The squirrels assaulted me over and over again this morning while I was trying to talk to G.K.C. about religion.

      It was awful. I lost three separate very LONG posts before I got wise to the little bastards.

    2. Maybe that Grand Canyon tourist was on to something. He’s the Sarah Connor of the squirel apacolyps

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