02/20/2006 01:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reading The Pictures: Having Bush's Ear


Congrats to TIME for just now informing us Cheney was the man behind Bush all along.

And two thumbs down for immediately contradicting that fact by questioning whether "he still has the President's ear." If you're saying the dynamic in the White House is predicated on the reality (according to the carefully selected image) that Bush has no focus, no forward direction and no defined ear without Cheney, how could Cheney "still" have or even lose something that is his in the first place?

It seems the yellow title "STICKING TO HIS GUNS" (especially as it's wedged between, and connects the two men) also informs the relationship. As referred to here, "HIS GUNS" is a metaphor for Cheney's very LARGE and scary capacity for dominance and intimidation. The editorial implication may be that Cheney is digging in with the public and the press, but the one he's most sticking it to in this situation (as pictorially evidenced and the near-consistent case for the past sixish years) is the blurry Bush.

Two last points, the first flight-of-fancy and the second not.

I often enjoy teaser captions for how they play against the image at hand. (Though we are conditioned to separate headlines as discrete elements, a magazine cover can't help but function as a visual gestalt.) In this instance, especially given it's centrality (and the "mockingly pure" white lettering), the question about Judas makes for an interesting allusion.

However, there is one feature here that not only makes this cover absolutely ominous and disconcerting, but also manipulative to the reader. Can you tell what it is?

It is our natural expectation (because he's looking right at us) that Cheney would meet our gaze. His look, however, is a detached stare, with the attention inwardly-focused. Psychologically, fixing on Cheney's face is unavoidable. Meeting a gaze is the earliest and most fundamental act of a person's social development. As such, one is inclined to expect some recognition -- just as we, as a people, would naturally expect more acknowledgment (not to mention, candor and humility) from a Vice President over his political conduct, his health as well as his shooting somebody.

In that light, this expression is as much an affront as an indictment. Really, who can stand to be looked at, and not be seen at all?

For more of the visual, visit

(Time cover. February 27, 2006.)