Photographic manipulation as a tool utilized by propagandists is characterized by use of images to manipulate the minds of voters.
George W. Bush
James Donahue, in his article Herding the Sheep: Using Images Of Bush To Manipulate The Minds Of Voters, asks "Have you noticed the halos and orbs around the head of President George W. Bush in recent press pictures? ... You probably haven't because things like that are designed to be seen by the subconscious mind. And genius Karl Rove, the guy whose job is to make our president look good all of the time, knows just what buttons to push to keep his man in the White House."
"One of the more sickening tricks, and most obvious," he writes, "are the pictures emanating from the president's public relations office. Some of them are portrayed on this page for the readers to inspect. If you look at them closely, you realize that they are not accidental. They are staged and Mr. Bush is posing for them."
As he mentions, Donahue's article is accompanied by three photographs of Bush. Heading the article is one where the Great Seal of the United States appears as a golden halo encircling the President's head while he orates from the podium. The second, in the lower right-hand corner of the article, shows Bush with head bowed (in prayer?) and glowing in a fuzzy bright golden halo against a solid dark background.
- Note: Photograph has been identified as taken October 13/14, 2003, by the Associated Press. One caption editorializes: "This means that the more than fifty percent of Americans who consider themselves 'born-agains' can rest assured that the U.S.-led War on Terrorâ?¢ is, in fact, a mission from God. Or His son, at least." Another states that the photo is "straight out of Catholic iconography."
However, says Donahue, "The picture of Bush posing before a lighted cross, under a crown and the word LORD is probably the most pretentious of the lot."
"Why," he asks, "would someone as elevated in office as our president stoop to such trickery? There is good reason. ... As writers Renee T. Louise and Ruth M. Sprague explained it: 'Television and movies have made us a nation, nay, a world that substitutes pictures for fact. We make stars of actors and heroes of those whose heroism exists only in their publicity releases. ... Every day we are shown pictures that the White House Republicans uses to influence our vote. A carefully constructed news item is released to the media knowing full well the pictures the TV outlets will run with it,' Louise and Sprague said."
Paul Martin Lester says that, "With digital hegemony, visual messages have reasserted their position as an important communication medium, but at the cost of not recognizing the combination of words and pictures as vital in communication." Unfortunaely, what is missing in Donahue's article is the context of the photographs and any text which might have accompanied them.
And, if web bloggers' reactions are any measure of the "success" of Bush's saintly photo ops, "disgusting", "disgraceful", "dispictable" "sacrilegious" and words to that effect top the list.
Bush-Iraqi Amputee Photo-op
"'Journalist' Who Arranged Iraqi Amputee Photo-Op Is A Bush Donor," Max Blumenthal, May 26, 2004:
- Blumenthal writes that he's "been wondering how Bush found the 7 Iraqi amputees for his brilliant photo-op."
- "According to an AP article posted on the Bush campaign website," he writes, "legendary octagenarian Houston TV personality Marvin Zindler 'helped arrange for their surgeries and publicized their story.' Early on, Zindler put Bush in touch with his own plastic surgeon Joe Agris, who has operated on Zindler 30 times, and Agris agreed to fit the Iraqis with new hands.
- "Though Zindler is regarded as a 'champion of the underdog' for his investigative reporting on Houston TV news, he donated $1000 to Bush/Cheney 2000 and dropped a cool $2000 on Bush's 2004 campaign last summer. At the photo-op, Bush honored Zindler along with the Iraqis."
See background article "New hands, new start" by Hugh Aynesworth, Washington Times, April 29, 2004.
"War Veterans": Kerry & Bush
The cover of the May 3, 2004, issue of U.S. News & World Report caught the attention of Anthony Hecht at Slapnose, April 27, 2004:
- "This may seem insignificant," he writes, "but take a look at the cover of the current issue of U.S. News and World Report.
- "A couple things are notable about this image. Kerry -- a decorated war veteran who volunteered for incredibly dangerous duty -- is shown wearing a suit. Bush -- an undecorated Reservist who specifically declined war service, and faced military discipline for failing to report -- is shown in uniform. Bush is cast in cool stately blue, looking soldierly into the camera while Kerry is cast in commie red, in a picture of him arguing against the war in Vietnam.
- "It may seem silly, but these kinds of things have a profound effect. Ask any psychiatrist, or watch some television commercials for a while. Images matter, and these images side-by-side betray an extremely unfair bias."
Hecht also points out on April 24, 2004, that Bush's "take" on the appropriate use of the image of military coffins is a bit "selective": 
- "I think it's also interesting to point out, as Ted Koppel did tonight, that the one time recently that a similar image -- one of a flag draped stretcher being carried out of Ground Zero -- has been used in what most people agree is a disrespectful way was in a campaign ad for George W. Bush."
- "The message? Using images of fallen heroes to inform the public and to illustrate their sacrifice and our respect for their service is disrespectful to their families. Using those images to further one's political career, that's okay."
Other "Memorable" Bush Photo Ops
- Bush with Great Seal "halo" at fingertips; Bush framed by American Flag (10/26/03); Bush "illuminated" (9/15/03); Bush ... "do-it-yourself" caption (11/15/03).
- Photo Album: Bush-Cheney '04 Inc.
- Photo Album: "White House Photo Essays."
- December 2000: Compare two photos with identical "Bush" backgrounds. "Air-brushed in"? Explanation?
- Photo Album: U.S. Department of State, September 11, 2001. Also see The Memory Hole archived video of Bush the morning of 9-11.
- 11 September 2001: When Bush was told of the terror attack.
- Photo Album: September11News.com web site. Scroll down to about the middle of the page. Note September 14, 2001, posed photo: "Bush with New York City Fireman Bob Beck at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center."
- 14 January 2002: Bush, with an angry red bruise on his cheek after "having fainted and fallen from a couch after choking on a pretzel over the weekend."
- 22 February 2002: "...at a joint press conference with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. While waiting for the translation of questions to him, Bush's eyes wandered into space. Even during his own comments, he showed little interest in what he was saying as he rarely made eye contact with either Kim or the audience."
- 12 November 2002: Bush with Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge; banner in background reads "We will not fail".
- 1 May 2003: "Bush approached the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in a S-3B Viking jet."
- 1 May 2003: "Bush gives the thumbs-up sign as he meets with flight crews on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln."
- 1 May 2003: Bush in full military flight suit aboard U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.
- 1 May 2003: Shot aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln with "Mission Accomplished" banner (Click to enlarge).
- 1 May 2003: Note Bush "Strategy Session" on flight deck of U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (last photo on page). White House version with banner "distant" from Bush.
- 2 May 2003: "Aboard Lincoln, President Bush Proclaims End to Major Combat Ops in Iraq."
- 2 May 2003: Photo op of Bush speaking at United Defense Industries.
- 31 May 2003: "Bush delivers his speech in the courtyard of the Wawel Royal Palace in Krakow, Poland." What could be more symbolic than the "Stars & Stripes" gently flowing over the assembly?
- 5 June 2003: "Bush rolls up his sleeves as he is introduced by General Tommy R. Franks at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar."
- Summer 2002: "President George W. Bush holding a book upside-down in a classroom." Even more noticeable is the backdrop for the photo op: a collage placing the Statue of Liberty over the student's right shoulder, a red-white-and-blue map of the U.S.A. under an arch with two golden stars bracketing "America" as a halo for the student's head, and the "Preamble to the Constitution" as the President's "halo".
- 9 October 2003: "President Bush spoke to about 600 people at the Center of New Hampshire while supporters and opponents rallied outside."
- 2 November 2003: Bush with Mount Rushmore.
- 3 November 2003: "Bush delivers remarks on the economy at CraneWorks' equipment warehouse in Birmingham, Ala." Note the cathedral-like "church and pulpit" affect.
- Thanksgiving 2003 in Baghdad/Bush With Bird.
- 21 December 2003: 'Politically/ethnically-correct' photo-op during Thanksgiving "visit" to Baghdad.
- 10 January 2004: Bush "speaking to female small business owners at a formal event at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington." Reuters. Note halo of lights surrounding Bush's head.
- 15 January 2004: Bush "announces his proposals for a space programme, during a speech at NASA headquarters in Washington," See Bush administration: return to space.
- 15 January 2004: "Bush delivers remarks at Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Orleans, La." Note the symbolism of Bush's outstretched arms and cross on wall ... "crucifixion"?
- 16 January 2004: Bush with Coretta Scott King placing wreath at grave of Martin Luther King, Jr..
- 20 January 2004: "State of the Union 2004."
- 15 February 2004, Daytona 500:
- "Bush looks over the National Guard-sponsored race car under the guidance of driver Bill Elliott prior to the running of the Daytona 500." See related article George W. Bush's military service."
- "Bush shakes hands with NASCAR drivers and pit crews along Pit Road before the Daytona 500." See accompanying news story, Bush Courts 'NASCAR Dads' at Daytona 500, Reuters, and Bush takes to the track to woo 'Nascar dads', Financial Times.
- "Air Force One rises above the grandstands along the super stretch at Daytona International Speedway while taking off during the NASCAR Daytona 500," AP.
- 29 April 2004: Caption: "Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pose on the North Lawn of the White House after they were both promoted to the rank of colonel by President Bush during a ceremony earlier in the Oval Office Thursday, April 29, 2004, in Washington. Sen. Graham, who is an Air Force reservist, and Rep. Buyer, who is an Army reservist, were both exempt from serving in Iraq because they are congressmen, but plan to do their active duty on the home front. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)"
- BuzzFlash Commentary: "Four Alarm Barf Bag Alert: Chickenhawk AWOL Bush Promotes Two Chickenhawk Republican Congressmen Who Won't Serve in Iraq But Make Believe They are Serving the Nation By Getting Dressed Up in National Guard Uniforms. They Let Other Young Men and Women Die."
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a picture plus words worth?
- "Holy Redeemer": georgewbush.com Bush photo in a classroom for "Clerical Office Training" (sign on wall), looking over the shoulder of a young Black girl who is sitting at a computer terminal. Bush's head lines up perfectly with the second line of lettering on the sign: "Holy Redeemer Institutional COGIC Complex." January 18, 2004. Wonder how long it took Rove to find that sign? Lots of subliminal symbolism in this one.
- "Responsibility" plus "Jobs and Growth" at Bush's fingertips and "Strengthening America's Economy" over Bush's head (literally).
- "Strengthening Health Care", once again over Bush's head.
- "National Urban League" with Bush overlaying the word "National".
- "No Child Left Behind" ... note position of "Child" in the pic.
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Bush administration propaganda and disinformation
- Bush regime
- flash media
- propaganda techniques
- religion and empire
- U.S. presidential election, 2004
- U.S. presidential election, 2004: Campaign Ads
- U.S. presidential election, 2004: Campaign Quotes
- White House .org parody site.
- Bush's Sham Photo Ops.
- Molly Ivins, Watch Out for Those Bush Photo-Ops, Boulder Daily Camera, December 15, 2001: "When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, many political observers had a theory that whenever he started holding photo ops with adorable little children, it was time to grab your wallet because it meant some unconscionable giveaway to the corporations was in the wind."
- Bush's Iraq Visit a Pre-Election PR Stunt, AFP, November 28, 2003.