If you know this column at all, I'm sure you appreciate how I never pass up an opportunity to bash Bush for crippling America's standing with the rest of the world. That said, however, I would never do it at the expense of misinterpreting either still images or video.
For that reason, I've got to object with the take on Bush authored the other day by CNN's Rick Sanchez.
Playing a brief clip of "W" and world leaders coming out on stage for the official group photograph of the G-20 Summit last weekend, Sanchez interpreted the scene as Bush being ignored by the other leaders and then sulking about it. Said Sanchez, Bush looked like "the most unpopular kid in high school that nobody liked."
Unfortunately, sites all over the progressive blogosphere ran with the video, with much the same interpretation.
Using this first and more extended C-SPAN segment, let me explain what was really going on.
The first reason Bush wasn't shaking hands was because Dubya -- who is nothing if not intensely diligent in conforming to the prescriptions of a photo op -- was looking (pretty conspicuously) for his mark on the floor. Watch him even seem to count them before finding his.
Another reason the CNN clip is misleading is because the leaders on the upper riser have already found their positions and there is not a lot of context to judge how quickly the leaders filling the first row needed to find theirs. With the benefit of this earlier footage, you can also observe how several other leaders, while entering the stage, were actually exhibiting the same halting gait and staring at the ground that Sanchez called Bush out for.
In particular, check out Prime Minister Singh of India and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. Besides how deliberately he takes the step and searches out his mark, notice how Burlusconi then makes a point of showing (I believe it's) European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal where his mark is.
This still doesn't fully explain, however, why the first-row leaders entering and falling into position behind Bush manage to greet some second row counterparts when 43 doesn't. That brings up the other reason GWB wasn't looking to pump hands (in contrast to Brazil's Lula, with the beard, and several of the others right behind him).It's because "W" also had a job to do (and, given Bush, work is always hard). As the host, Bush was in charge of herding the crowd and getting everyone situated. You don't get that at all from the CNN segment or the first C-SPAN clip, but it's pretty obvious in this second C-SPAN segment which picks up immediately after the group photo is over. In this segment, you can see Bush -- again, not in chummy-mode -- preoccupied with directing the throng off stage and out of the room. Approaching the end of the clip, in fact (at a point Sanchez might pause to wonder why Bush wasn't chatting up Nicholas Sarkozy), you suddenly see 43, the stage manager, begin to communicate with someone off stage, most likely about logistics. (It's actually funny, in fact, because GDub responds to the communication by having a little hissy fit, turning in the other direction and looking peeved, the whole host business possibly affecting his mood.)
Studying the weekend's pictures, in fact, the only summit-related social disconnect I could find involving Bush had to do with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Rudd caused an uproar back home a month earlier for relating to domestic press how Bush, in a phone call, didn't know what the G-20 was. From other angles, it's almost impossible to tell, but the Reuters shot run with this Herald Sun article conveys how icy Bush was toward Rudd when he first arrived at the White House for the conference. (Not the kind of welcome, for example, that the Saudi King got.)
On one hand, maybe it seems a bit much going to these lengths over what did or didn't happen in the span of a few seconds. On the other hand, however, given how traditional, independent and also citizen media can draw grand and definitive conclusions from a single photo or a visual snippet, it's important to get it right. The fact the incompetent and thin-skinned Bush is not well liked by the world's leaders is easy to understand. On the other hand, these people are far too well trained to act out so blatantly the way CNN sets it up.
(video: C-SPAN from interview with Krishna Guha, Financial Times, Chief U.S. Economics Correspondent. November 16, 2008)