10/04/2005 07:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading the Pictures: Bush's Halo


I'm not sure if I would go as far as Left Coaster in claiming that the Bush PR team has been overestimated from the beginning, or that, suddenly, "the press is making Bush out to be a cartoon character."

Clearly though, the visual coverage of Bush has become decidedly less flattering, with more emphasis on awkwardness and self-promotion. Rick Wilking's recent photo of Bush's U.N. bathroom break note was the extreme case, but by far not the only one. As a more subtle example, here are a couple of shots taken two weeks ago at a Medal of Honor ceremony for war hero Tibor Rubin.

In the first image, circulated by Reuters, the President is seen struggling with a clasp. In the second shot, which ran in the New York Times, we see a close up of the back of Bush's head.


There were several photos of this event that were equally flattering to Bush and to Rubin. So why were we offered one that visually downplayed the President? Of course, it could have been merely incidental. Or, maybe The Times was just looking for something a little off-beat. On the other hand, the subject of the photo has to do with heros. Four years ago, a majority of the country perceived Bush as such. Having experience a "free fall" in stature, however, perhaps the meta-communication is that Bush no longer merits the face time next to the real thing.


In a (even) more fanciful vein, a popular pastime in the blogosphere has been the posting of news photos known as "halo" shots. These are pictures where a political figure -- by virtue of the background -- is perceived to sport a headdress or crown. Although admittedly superficial, the approach is not always without iconic value. (This image of the "holier-than-thou" Dr. Frist is one of the liberal 'sphere's most popular examples.)

If you love the halo game, our NYT photo is almost too good to pass up. Here, Bush's head is framed like an anointed figure or, well, an "all star." (Actually, lady liberty also comes to mind.) If you put even the smallest stock in this allusion, Bush's quickly fading star-studded, flag waving, liberty-invoking, "mission-accomplishing" reputation makes the contrast with Tibor that much more ironic.

For more of the visual, visit

(image 1: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. September 23, 2005. White House. Via YahooNews. image 2: Mark Wilson/Getty. September 23, 2005. Washington, D.C. The New York Times. image 3: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP. May 23, 2005. Washington. YahooNews.)