NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« Exit The Green Zone | Main | Repeat After Me And Then Raise Your Right Hand »

Oct 13, 2005

The BAG Opens Its Frist Investigation


Since I began analyzing news images, one thing I've been interested in is the ability to do investigative work primarily through visual analysis.  For lack of a better term (at least, at this point) you might call it: "forensic photojournalistic research."

A current target I have in mind for this kind of inquiry is Bill Frist.  In my mind, he (like Bush) is one of those figures who somehow made the "A" team out of nowhere; has some backing of the right-wing "machine";  and could be destined for bigger things.  At the same time -- especially because he's in some hot water right now -- his personality and background are just rife ripe for examination.

I'll tell you one thing (and yes, I'm speaking professionally): This is a very weird guy.  Because I'm still digging around, I'm keeping the powder dry.  But I will start you off with this.  Frist has a very odd way of relating to people.  He's schooled at social protocol, but otherwise, he's like a robot.  And, even compared to the typical big-ego politician, he is "off the charts" on the narcissism scale.

Take this image above as my first evidentiary submittal.  Here is Frist on his first day as Senate Majority leader, moving in to his new office.  As I investigate and fashion an understanding of Frist through pictures (hopefully, also shedding light on his alleged insider trading), I expect we will see all kinds of complications from someone who's primary pastime is staring in the mirror.

(image: Susan Walsh/A.P. Washington.  January 7, 2003.  Via YahooNews.)


Not narcissism. At least, that's not what I intuit. I don't see that ridiculous photo as a portrait of Frist, but perhaps instead the persona Frist has attempted to construct and occupy. My impression has always been that Frist is so creepily animatronic because he's an individual who's spent a lifetime repressing himself to the point of near soullessness--the human singularity. For whatever reason--perhaps from self-loathing--Frist is incapable of presenting his true, vulnerable self to the world, relying instead on a construct.

Frist may not be an individual you'd want to witness drunk, when all the toxic bile of internalized repression and self-hatred comes bubbling up.

I know I could be wrong, but Frist reminds me uncannily of a type of individual I've encountered too frequently during my education: The brilliant geek, ostracized in childhood, under-socialized, who enters adulthood without ever learning to cope with their issues, accept themselves, or find a way to be comfortable in their own skin.

Anyone who would allow themselves to be posed in such a manner for a photo (Frist on fist) is totally programable. Like you said Bag, this guy is a robot. And yes, narcissism is the only way one could place such a huge picture of themselves in their own office.

That right-wing guy who replaced Saffire at the NYT posed fisting himself for his mug shot as well.
Is this a conservative trend? Maybe they'll start wearing tutus instead of suits.
Denny Hastert in a tutu, oh that's hot.

Well. He outed himself with that ridiculous glamour shot pose if you ask me.

One more closet case in an administration full of them.

But what truly chills me about this man is the fact that he's a heart surgeon. No way a programmed robot like this should have made it through med school in the first place, much less be allowed to 'practice' on real human beings. No way in HELL a true M.D. would do a public dx of a patient he'd never seen in person, based on his viewing of a heavily edited videotape.

No doubt his M.D. came as a direct result of his family owning HCA -- the most corrupt hospital chain corporation in the country.

I'd sure hate to be one of his patients.

Kevin - I don't think many unprogrammed nonrobots make it through med school/internship to become heart surgeons...

Asperger's Syndrome? That's what comes to my mind. Or another sort of syndrome in the autism spectrum? You are the professional.

"...rife for examination"

niggle: surely you mean "ripe"??

Kevin, As a recovering physician myself, I have to agree with Chris.


Let Me Entertain You

the question (in my mind) is not as simplistic as, "Who is Frist, really?" rather it is this expectation of the American public that politicians be good performers, especially in the sense of telegenic image = personna.

eg., neither Kerry nor Gore ever seemed "comfortable" in their "roles" ~ yet they never really abandonded their effort, their own handlers' efforts ~ to present themselves as some telegenic ideal presumption.

iow, what would happen if a handful of Republican and/or Democratic leaders were to drop the pretense, and become candid candidates : would the American public accept them?

i wonder. but one thing i would really like to see in the next crop of American politicians is : a sense of humor; some wit, as well as wisdom.

Zombie Robot to be exact.
This guy is darn right scary. Just so long as he can continue to hang more pictures of himself then he can continue to try and convince himself that he isn't all that bad of a guy, kinda like the old if you repeat a lie often enough it will become the truth thingy. Hey fits their M.O.

As far as the diagnosis of Schavo: pure political pandering and nothing else which along with this insider stock trading and his pronouncement that he had all of his stock in a blind trust just shows the real man for what he really is: unethical, un-Godly, un-American, and u u u u ugly.


I have encountered individuals with characteristics like Frist's often enough and under similar enough circumstances that I have mused and kidded about the possibility of some clinical condition being at the root--some form of autisim not unlike Asperger's syndrome.

I know from firsthand experience that "unprogrammed nonrobots" can be quite successful professionally. Actually, I would argue that and "unprogrammed nonrobot" would be successful specifically because they're exactly that. I've known quite a few. Who better to attempt something as soul-crushing as medical school, law school, or physical chemistry than someone's who's spent a lifetime repressing their own soul to the point of near non-existence?

Kevin and Frank T (thanks for the support ;) - I feel I should mention that I spent 4 years at Johns Hopkins (as a physics grad) observing premed robots getting their programming. Scared the spit out of all of us.

Did anyone else notice the subliminal halos above their heads?


All great comments about Frist's character, especially Tuffy's.

As I said, I'm consider this look into Frist, his character and his dealings as an ongoing investigation -- so it's not that that clear yet.

That said, let me address a confusion in this discussion. (And I hope I'm not getting too clinical here): As Tuffy suggests, Frist seems less like a narcissist than what is referred to in the trade as a schizoid personality. This latter type is characterized by people who are robotic and have very little emotional connection to others. The strict criteria involves at least four of the following:

(1) neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family

(2) almost always chooses solitary activities

(3) has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person

(4) takes pleasure in few, if any, activities

(5) lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives

(6) appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others

(7) shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity.

Just off the bat, you can see the match from Tuffy's description. It manifests, as well, in Frist's physical and verbal rigidity, the surgical specialty (including the famous story about the cat killing), and the fact Frist always comes off so cold.

I'm just guessing, but we might assume that Frist doesn't really fit at least #2 and #4. That's because he certainly must have a lot of interpersonal interaction; he (at least ) has a family; and he seems to function (at least somewhat) adaptively in what is certainly a "people-oriented business."

A key question, then, is where he falls on #6. Because the narcissist, above all else, lives and dies by this.

In any case, when you look at specific people, the typologies are not that discrete. Taking Tuffy's excellent point into consideration and revisiting my comments in the post, I am now not clear how to read the photo on the desk. Maybe it really isn't a demonstration of self-love. Maybe it's more an expression of profound social cluelessness and a way for Frist to remind himself he always has an admirer out there.

On a dial-up connection, as the photo slowly loaded, I thought I was going to see a corpse in a white and gold silk lined coffin.

Maybe the photo was a gift. If you had one of yourself, where would you put it??

Mike Shepherd...
In Christian iconography, square halos signify living saints. You probably guessed as much, if you didn't already know.

Sometimes professional jargon has a distancing effect. Though it may be too soon to determine a solid clinical diagnosis, I think the terminology of the lay community, though colorful, captures the essence of The Man Who Would Be Frist — that is, "fucking whackjob." It's the cat-torture/killing thing more than the med school thing.

Surgeons can be scary people. They are trained to cut people. They are trained to do this without having the normal revulsion that most of us would feel about taking a very sharp knife and cutting open a living person.

They cut people because they are repairing a heart or removing a tumor or doing some other heroic thing.

But still, somehow they can supress that powerful aversion most of us feel abut cutting someone open. And it provides them with a very good living.

"Perhaps the secret behind honest versus faked smiles is at work when we photograph people. A genuine smile elicits a sense of well-being and enjoyment in the viewer. A fake smile won't produce the same response ... A false smile hides something of the subject's character and creates a feeling of unease in the viewer."—Anatomy of a Smile,

The photographer took this picture from a below eye-level position, possibly crouching on the floor in order to get both the photo of Frist and Frist himself in the picture. The photographer sensed that First is all facade and took the trouble to literalize it to the viewer. The camera's position close to the floor also gives us insight into how Frist (and Hastert?) see themselves, that is, they feel they are somehow "above the fray." I think this is part of the narcissist's personality (speaking as a non-therapist), they think they have some special dispensation from the concerns and inadequacies that plague us ordinary (lowly) mortals. Frist must have been shocked to get subpoenaed and learn that his stock deals are being called into question. Things like that aren't supposed to happen to people like him.

I worked in medical schools for 40 years. Med students aremay be the most programmed groups in education. I worked with both med students and grad students. The med students weren't very curious and were interested only in spitting out the right answer on tests. The grad students tended to question what was taught, especially when they were taking a course with med students. They were interested in why, whereas med students were interested in memorizing the correct answer.

I don't mean to disparage med students. Some of them were bright, thoughtful and inquisitive. The majority, though, were memorization robots.

As Paul Krugman pointed out in his last column (that I cannot link to, because it is on Times Select), the press is notoriously bad at deciphering the character of political figures. For that reason, it probably terribly misjudged and mischaracterized Bush. As an example, he mentioned how the press has continually portrayed Bush as strong in instances when the true attribute (emanating from a weaker trait) probably has more to do with stubbornness.

I not only think it is important for us to get better at reading political images. As a shrink, I think it is also important that we get better at reading political character. To that end, I completely welcome and encourage the layman's approach to psychology. Often, in fact, it provides a much better read than that of overly-didactic (and, typically, overly theoretical) psychological professionals.

That said, I think it is probably worth one more pass at these two psychological personality types. Just because "schizoid" is an unfamiliar term where as "narcissist" is commonly known, I wouldn't be put off by it.

The "Robot" (or schizoid) personality is typified by: A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings.

The "Narcissistic" personality is typified by: A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.

Why does the distinction matter so much? Because, if Frist really is more of a schizoid than a narcissist, it suggests that he is much more absent and empty as a person, much less able to relate to and read others, and probably that much more dangerous than the typical politician, who may be overwhelmingly self-serving, but certainly not "emotionally autistic."

Here is Frist on his first day as Senate Majority leader, formally welcoming Speaker Hastert (I guess ??) to his office. No doubt there is a crowd of Important People, plus the Press. This is a big welcoming moment.

So where are Frist's hands?

Aren't hands part of a welcoming ceremony?

Absolutely creepy. Reminds me that Halloween is coming soon.

Mad: Great point about those hands, and lack of.

The framed portrait in photo reminds me somehow of Tony Robbins. Tony though most likely fits the narcissistic personality type.

I'm freaking myself out further by looking over Frist photos on his web site. A family one framed through a leafy wire trellis says a lot about how he interacts with his family, methinks. Looks as if he was shoved in at the last moment and also that he would be the first to leave. Or that he just might stay in that position long after the others leave, just like a robot posed.

The Court of Public Opinion has a few questions for the Visual Investigator:

1. Noting the varied opinions about images expressed by the Investigator and BNN readers, is an interpretation about the personality of someone in a photograph objective or subjective? Is it possible that individual interpretations are largely in the eye of, or due to the preconceptions of the beholder?

2. Requesting the Investigator's opinion as a practicing professional psychologist, how accurate would a real patient's personality assessment be if it was done under the following conditions: A) Based solely upon observing third-party photographs and news reports of the patient; B) Composed without meeting the patient in person and engaging them repeatedly in face-to-face sessions; C) Never administering any other psychological test with the patient's knowledge and participation; and D) Never giving the patient an opportuntity to respond to the diagnosis?

3. Would such a remote visual analysis by the Investigator be respected by other professionals in the same field, such as the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association?

4. Would the Investigator be willing, without any further research regarding the subject's identity, to give the Court an opinion about this woman's personality and potential behavior by examining her news photograph?

5. Is the Investigator aware of any differences of opinion among mental health professionals today regarding the accuracy and validity of projective psychological tests, such as a Thematic Apperception Test or Rorschach Inkblot Test? If such tests are given to a subject, can the Investigator please describe for the Court the manner in which they should be conducted?

6. Could the casual, although entertaining, analyses of news images on BNN be characterized as somewhat projective and not strictly objective?

7. The Court finds it curious that the Investigator, a prolific deconstructor of popular media images, does not offer his own image anywhere on his own blog. Instead, BNN readers have to visit a contibutor's page at the Arianna Huffington Post to see such an image, and it's a quite a small one at that. Is there any psychological significance to the particular location, page placement, and small size of the Investigator's image on someone else's blog?

P.S. — Nothing personal intended here, BAG, but my tongue is not entirely in my cheek, either. I seriously doubt the credibility and objectivity of "forensic photojournalistic investigation". To say the least, you're not exactly impartial about the subject of your initial case.

BNN is great fun, though.


The other person is former Senator Howard Baker.


Great questions (in general).

I want to emphasize that the psychological profiling I've done on this site (mostly involving Bush; with some Kerry; and at lease one piece on Wesley Clark, who I also have problems with) is always based on biographical research, including family history; interviews (where I can take a specific look at expressions, use of metaphors and characteristics of speech -- which was the subject of my dissertation, and an area I also have extensive additional training in); video interviews and speeches; bigoraphies and autobiographies; published psychological profiles; etc.

I guess I should probably have actually stated all this somewhere, but I must emphasize I don't ever make psychological observations about a photograph without bringing this kind of knowledge to bear.

(To tell you the truth, I did a huge amount of work getting a handle on Howard Dean. When his candidacy went down the tubes, I was disappointed, as much as anything, because I felt most of that effort was wasted.)

All that said, an explicit reason I term this Frist "project" a work-in-progress is because I'm just starting my homework, and I thought it would be an interesting to "roll out" hypotheses as I went along.

Regarding the partisanship issue, I'm sure I could come up with plenty of interesting "cases" to look at in the Democratic world. (Actually, last time I checked, Kerry, Dean and Clark all fell on this side of the fence.) I haven't analyzed it that deeply, but I think I pick out people to look into based on a.) how prominent they are as compared to how confused the public is about "who" they are, and b.) how important it is that the public be more aware (and wary) of a particular public figure. It's the latter motivation that makes me interested in Frist, and is also what motivated Justin Frank to write his book about Dubya.

I should also add, if I felt that the politics contaminated an honest psychological read, I would just stay clear (which is what I mostly do).

fotonique raises good questions, but I am not sure that they are fully relevant to the whole picture of what is happening on this Bagsite.

Would I, as as member of the Local Court of Public Opinion, think that Bagman is being objective? No, the tone and the language in this specific post by Bagman, as well as the cumulative effect over time, show that Bagman has a slant. It doesn't appear to me that he attempts to hide that.

Are we readers expecting current and fully professional analyses of Senators Frist or Kerry, or President Bush? No, because we'll never hear from their "therapists", if there be such.

Do we benefit from the very informal and very brief information that Bagman provides? Most definitley Yes. And evidently Bagman is doing quite a bit of homework. And he provides a starting point for others to provide their insite.

As to whether the info that Bagman provides is credible-- I certainly regard it as more credible than the kiss-ass raves that President Bush got from all sides of the mainstream media for the first four years of his rule.

And Bagman shows himself to be far more credible in offering Long Distance Analysis than Senator Frist was able to be in his fully public and fully credited and far more important analysis of the Brain-dead Woman.

It is good that fotonique reminds of these issues, but at the same time, as members of the Local Court of Public Opinion, we still got to keep our perspective. Otherwise stated as--- "get a grip".

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003