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Nov 04, 2005

Are You Telling Me You Don't Like Pepperoni!

(click image for larger version)

I'm still not sure how to handle these situations.

Yesterday, I linked to a piece I did for HuffPo analyzing this White House photo taken during the invasion-eve meeting in which Bush, Cheney, Tenet, etc. decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on Saddam Hussein.  My ideas was to experiment with the idea of "investigative photojournalism."  As I went over it later, however, the post was so filled with conjecture and speculation, and the ideas seemed to run so far ahead of the picture itself, I decided to put the post out of its misery.

In the meantime, however, because a number of skilled and serious BAGreaders took off running with what I would call a much more grounded take on the photo, I decided I should post the image here, and continue to let you speculate on the dynamics of the situation.

One thing I had done was establish a timeline indicating that the four hour meeting was over three hours old at this point and that the decision to strike (urged by Tenet based on C.I.A. intelligence) was likely already approved.  Given those apparent facts, I started to speculate.  My thesis was that Cheney, who I saw as the real decision maker here, would not let Tenet off the hook regarding the veracity of the intelligence.  I had a bunch of other even more left-field ideas as well.

But as one commenter at HuffPo said, the guys could just as easily have been thrashing over a pizza order.

(image: Eric Draper, White House/A.P. March 20, 2003.  Oval Office.


I don't want to post at Huffie's place. Notice that Tenet is the only guy in the photo with his jacket off. He's the guy who's been doing the work. The others are just reacting. I'm surprised they let a photographer into the room, to be frank. It's got to have been well after the real meeting ended, no?

I think there are two reflections of Andy Card--one behind Tenet and one behind Card.

Tenet is getting a workout: jacket off, leaning into his point, gesturing for emphasis even though he'd been using that hand to support his weight, eyebrows up so high his forehead is deeply wrinkled, eyes intensely focused on Cheney. He looks like he's asking a question like, "You do realize what this means, right?" I'd like to know what his blood pressure reading is at this moment.

Bush looks almost like he's about to scowl at Cheney disapprovingly: "Dick, give it a rest. Here, I signed it." Bush's expression is interesting because he looks like he's actually thinking — something I'm not sure I've ever seen him do. Bush is leaning away from Tenet, maybe just out of reach of Tenet's force field so that he's not affected by it. He too is looking hard at Cheney, though. Yet he is relaxed (except for the pre-scowl); he is not troubled at all by the decision, just slightly irritated with Cheney. He has no qualms otherwise because he believes he's right. That's the quality in Bush that people voted for: his certainty that he's right.

Card just looks kind of grim and ill. Whatever Cheney is saying, however, it certainly got everyone's attention.

What I think is odd is that Tenet and Card are on Bush's side of the desk — why? It's kind of an uncomfortable place to be. And why are Tenet and Card standing? This isn't how you have a meeting, so were they looking over Bush's shoulder while he read the paper, or did it take the two of them to point out to Bush where to sign?

The BAG asks:

Can it [original White House photo is here] tell us anything about the decision to take out Saddam Hussein with a single missile strike, how the decision was made, or what kind of personality factors were involved?

Not in particular: they could be meeting about anything. They don't look unresolved, blindly obssessed, or even conspiratorial. Once we have been prepositioned about the context of the photo, with several loaded adjectives thrown in for good measure, we can project all kinds of thespian speculation into the frame, but the image itself is more bland than dramatic.

Cheney—by whatever one can infer from viewing the back of a man's head—looks more inquisitive than subversive; Tenet more insistent than harassed; and Bush more calm than vengeful. Although Card, as one would expect of the Chief of Staff, is outranked, he appears more supportive than servile (minion? Please.)

Precisely when you consider that this image was selected by the White House to represent the meeting, they must feel pretty confident about it. Eric Draper has enough photo experience to know when to burn the bad ones.

Lemondlulu54 raises a good point about the window reflections, but Andy Card may only be reflected in the window behind Tenet.

Look at this enhanced image. There appears to be the back and head of a fifth man with whiter hair (bald spot on top?), white collar, and dark suit reflected in the window behind Card. This window slants away from the camera to the right, and is not angled properly to reflect Card's back to the camera. Instead, it may be reflecting the image of someone standing outside of the frame on the camera's right.

I think the entire thing is a pose, a staged photo for the history books. Card is the give-away...he looks like everybody's Uncle Billy just trying to fit into the family photograph. The official photographer said to look concerned now and they all tried to wipe the smiles off their faces. Tenet, as usual, over did it. Cheney knew he couldn't do it so they put him back to camera. Bush's scowl is his attempt to look serious. It doesn't happen often.

Seriously, my impression of those days (from my less-than-perfect memory) was of a president with ants in his pants. I thought at the time that he knew time was running out and their 'cover story' would be blown if they didn't act NOW. He was running here and there with great intense body language. Behind the scenes, I imagined they were rubbing their hands with glee and anticipation. If only they could carry off the invasion before they were found out.

Also, I don't think anyone realized that the set-up of the photo, i.e., three men behind the desk all focused on the one man with back to camera, actually made Cheney the power broker in that setting. THEY are focused on HIM.


Why are they standing?... thanks for pointing this out I missed it in my Huffington post. I think its a pecking order thing, like when you call the boys in the boss and/or his 2IC comfortably sit back confirming where the workers really stand. (no pun intended) Your first paragraph is almost identical to mine. (which could mean that wise men most often agree, or that fools seldom differ)
Bush leaning away from Tenet might suggest he does not want to associate with what he's saying.
Why are they both on Bush's side? because Cheney's chairing this meeting while Bush is simply occupying the official chair. It is also imperative and vital for Bush that the flag is seen behind him confirming his "Commander In Chief" status.
(I've noticed in Mexico how women encourage and support machismo in men but almost always get what they want in the end). I see Cheney playing this similar ennobling, supporting and highly manipulative role to perfection. The only important question is how long will it take for Bush to sign.
I've just noticed the framed pictures behind Tenet are all sandwiched together what do you make of that? Could Tenet or his files have been sitting there before the camera arrived.? As Bush always like to present a tidy controlled scene, there's something out of order here. In the final analysis this may be a minuscule concern as everything around him at present is in disarray. This may get us back to the first paragraph where Tenet was projecting just such a future scenario.

My favorite detail is that Bush has used his white binder as a coaster for his cup.

Whatever's going on, it's between Cheney and Tenet, and the others are just spectators. Bush can't even get Cheney's attention to hand him that paper. I don't know, but it seems that Bush got the paper from Cheney, looked at it or signed it or whatever he was instructed to do, and is handing it back to him - which just confirms the "Cheney in charge" aspect...

But what's Tenet so worked up about? If he said they knew where Saddam and his sons might be, and he urged "immediate action", I can't imagine Cheney arguing against it or worrying that the intelligence wasn't good enough.

As I recall, they dropped a ton of bombs on one site where Saddam and the sons were supposed to be that night. Wasn't there a report of some dickering around about that--that they waited too long after receiving the intelligence? Or was it just dickering around after the fact when they realized that they wasted a billion bucks trying to take out three guys? Whatever.

Thanks, fotonique, for enhancing the photo. The reflection behind Card could be Ari Fleischer?

All hail his royal Bagginess!

I sympathize with your dilemma about posting stuff to Huffie. Your're reaching a wider audience, obviously, and opening yourself up to more criticism, some of it rather deranged from what I read yesterday. But keep up the good work. To build your audience at that site (I only go there to see if Harry Shearer has posted anything.) maybe limit yourself to the obviously stage managed photos for a month or so. Then you're providing a public service--helping folks learn how they are being manipulated through the use of powerful visual imagery. God knows we all need remediation in interpreting visuals.

And just as another thought, why not post at Raw Story instead of Arianna's place? You might reach a more sympathetic audience. And a younger one, too. I find that young people are more sophisticated in processing the visuals. I know that Raw doesn't currently have a feature like yours, but what do you have to lose by asking?

So many great comments here . . . My eye was immediately drawn, as it was in another WH photo posted, to Cheney's secretive leather notebooks. Here, they're in the foreground on the edge of Bush's desk. It looks like there are three of them. They're all closed--neither Tenet, Bush or Card are privy to what's inside. Cheney's keeping them as close to himself as possible. Wonder what's in them . . . torture memos, perhaps? The leather notebook on the top is overstuffed with papers and is bent with wear. To further emphasize that these papers are exclusively his, Cheney's put his glasses on top of them. How good is his eyesight without glasses? Cheney's probably near-sighted. All eyes are on Cheney, but the three men are just a blur to him. Cheney's pulled a fast one. A process that Bush, Card and Tenet think is still ongoing is, to Cheney, already a closed book.

The other three are left with the crumbs. Tenet gestures with what looks like only a few sheets of paper. The paper Bush holds obviously isn't his and he's holding it like a hot potato, waiting to hand it off (as he has so much of his presidential authority) to Cheney. As another poster noted, Bush is using his unopened white notebook as a coaster for his paper coffee cup. Bush's desk looks unused and impersonal, with a nondescript clock and an empty in-box. He doesn't spend much time there. What's that on Card's left? An intercom? Card's the odd man out. Lemon and fotonique make great points about Card's ghostly reflections. Card's been marginalized (and stabbed in the back repeatedly) by Rove, Libby and Cheney but, as the investigation into the reasons for the war progress, Card may come back to haunt them.

LLL54: The reflection behind Card could be Ari Fleischer?

True, there was less of Ari in 2003 than before, but what remained was black, not gray.

It's a posed photo for sure, Card's body language gives it away; and perhaps, the photographer asked Tenet to say his line again about it being 'slam dunk!'

I'd like to think the gray-haired specter in the window behind Card is the spirit of a former White House resident, say, Bill Clinton, with his back to these tyros.

As a Bag beginner I don't know in which of the three categories I might fit, skilled, serious or grounded, possibly none of them. But for what its worth here is my Huffington Post contribution.

For Cheney both the discussion and his decision is final. His glasses atop the closed binders attest to that.
Tenet sans jacket has been doing all the heavy lifting. Supporting his body with right hand he is permissibly as close as possible to being 'in Dick's face', using his left hand to further emphasize his point. He is not a happy camper, has lost the argument over intelligence and/or over projected dire future consequences if Dick's interpretation of realities are pursued.
Bush's binder is also closed but he is directing Tenet's other sheet of information quizzically toward Dick. He is role playing 'the over the glasses serious stare of the school MASTER'. Slightly (could it be otherwise)perplexed, awaiting Dick's response to Tenet's challenge.
Card is just taking up space.
In hindsight this little gathering is relatively easy to read knowing: how Tenet was later to fall on his sword for which he received a (two pieces of silver) medal. Powell maintained and played his role as 'the good soldier' while on duty. From his former assistant we now have learned what he really thought of 'the cabal'
This probably explains why the Sectary of State is also not in this historical photo. With so much egg on his face already not be included must be one of his small triumphs.
An enlargement of this photo on the Huffington Post clearly shows the outside gentleman having white hair. So I think we can conclude it was not Ari Fleischer.Is it fair to assume had he stayed on a hair color change in that direction was probable?

Regarding the unfortunate HuffPo self-censorship: I would argue that much of the fun of BAGnewsNotes is to be afforded the opportunity to speculate and conjecture (and occasionally even fantasize wildly) to our hearts' content, while still keeping at least one toe based in documentable reality. This isn't a science, after all, it's something of an art. It proves only that HuffPo readers, like the men pictured in this post, are a humorless lot.

I agree with readytoblowa. The fun is in the speculation. The BAG's sometimes wild conjectures are often found to be quite valid. Also, it has the "ink-blot" aspect that reveals one's own predjuices, which is good. Maybe this type of free mind-play with images is too open for the Huffpost, as others have said. I don't know if you should post elsewhere, BAG. Maybe let them find you?

I just noticed something. No computer. One the desk. Anywhere.

All your feedback is well appreciated -- and always thoughtfully considered.

Does George Bush use a computer ? He says he doesn't read much. Maybe his technological prowess is limited to playing game boy, staying upright on his bike and being a bushman with that chainsaw.
I found the comments were mostly boring on the Huffington site. I think 'the students will find the master site when they are ready'.
I did like the bigger picture that was posted there and would like to see a larger version of the latest one re, Mazari-I-Sharif if possible.
I know very little about computers is it possible to have the standard photo with an option to enlarge it, as a permanent feature?
The idea of attracting youth (or even children) to the Bag is a great one. Playing chess on-line with my 7 year old grandson is interesting but getting involved with him in this type of endeavor is intriguing. I expect to learn much from his opinions.

RTBAG said: ...the gray-haired specter in the window behind Card...

Given the neo-con(spiratorial) imaginings occasionally expressed at BNN, perhaps there really is a SPECTRE haunting the Oval Office.

Well, what I notice about this photograph is how out-of-place Tenet is with the others. It isn't just that he's in shirtsleeves. He is much more earnest and geeky. He's kind of overweight, not the slim, athletic profile of Bush and Card. He just seems a lot less polished, a lot less concerned with image, much more the technocrat.

Oh, and that pink tie Tenet is wearing? Would Bush EVER wear a tie like that?

My 4 1/2 yr old g. daughter used my digital camera this summer, unknown to me, from the rear kid's seat. A crazy odyssey, there's a man mowing the yard CLICK, there's my foot, CLICK etc.,

Through 3/4 weeks I learnt to see the world from about 2'10" from ground level. She improved and is now taking quite excellent pics.

Try it with your kids, it's fun, it costs nothing if you have the cam, PC and they can share your analysis of good / bad shots etc.,

Very often they can take shots, you cannot, because adults ignore kids with a camera ot just think they look cute.

Try it. You'll have fun, and so will they.

I sympathize with you on your HuffPo experience. I used to frequent it often until it seemed every blog was hijacked by nasty little trolls.

The first thing that came to my mind in looking at this picture was of DaVinci's Last Supper, where Jesus and his disciples, save one, sat on one side of the table. That disciple? Judas, who betrayed him.

Looks like Cheney is running (ruining) the show from this picture. As for Tenant...who wears a pink tie to war?

Are they all posing, and Tenant is the only one not really posing. Do some have the camera in mind (Bush, and Card) and start posing, since they are not deep enough into the decision making (or they would not be posing). Or are looking in that direction more often.

What is Bush doing holding that paper up? Is he trying to get them to move on and go with what Cheney is saying... I don't know it’s weird. Also funny is that Bush is the center of the picture, but he is to most out of it, I mean his sleeves are not even rolled up. I guess you could say Card looks more out of it, just standing there without a paper to hold up.

The central figure in this picture is Cheney and his back is to the camera... very off kilter.

It does seem like an "if x then remember y & z" type conversation. The slash of Tenants hand could be emphasis, but emphasis with that gesture is usually "if x then remember you got y (slash hand), you got z (slash hand), and last but not least you got o (slash hand). Baring that it is usually dismissive - no (slash), no (slash), no (slash). Who knows what detail this is about, but it is seldom if ever a gesture used in agreement. I suppose if could be a shock and awe boo-yah agreement such as "...then we have to shock (slash) and awe (slash) and bomb (slash) them fast and hard..."

Also note the triangle formed with Bush, Card, and the flag (eagle head and arrows shown). A separate, but apparently equal triangle formed with Cheney, Tenant, and Tenants hand slash.

I just noticed, I am sure someone has mentioned it; it’s also odd that Tenants gesture also gives Bush the backhand. I guess he might not be slashing his hand so much as lifting it and holding it open toward Cheney. Look at all the folders Cheney brought to the meeting. Bush has a small folder and that piece of paper he is holding.

This is a great spot for product placement. They should touch up the photo to photoshop in some dunkin donuts, or starbucks coffee. There is only one drinking mug on the President’s desk.

Is Cards right hand on the back of Bush's chair? If so that is so annoying, and I am surprised that Bush would let him do it.

Perhaps as someone pointed out Bush did sign the papers, and Card is there to hold his hand for the “cabal” during a risky implementation. I doubt this however, since I think that Bush and Card are posing, and the Bush would play along with anything as long as in the end they would allow him to land on an aircraft carrier with a sock stuffed down his flight suit, but I am sure he held out and made them promise he could strut around the deck like a peacock for a few minutes.

Having been in a number of meetings with high level elected officials who didn't really know what they were doing, I am pretty sure this is a completely staged image that had nothing to do with the business that was conducted at the meeting. As others have noted, Bush has few papers that he has been examaning. He certainly hasn't much familiarity with all the papers in Cheney's portfolio. Also, I am confident that you couldn't keep Bush's attention in a meeting this long without lots of pictures and visual aids. The one or two page paper he is holding was probably as complicated a briefing as he got on the subject. He holds it with the authority of a man who thinks he has a complete grasp on a subject, because he's just read this here paper. I think Tenet's in his shirt sleeves to show that he is the technical person here, not one of the real decision makers (who are in formal suits, of course).

I think one interesting thing is who is not in the pricture: Rove. I can't imagine he wouldn't have been personally involved in this meeting, but I think you see his fingerprints on the composition: Bush at the center of controversy, with a take charge attitude, looking serious, skeptical, informed. (You have to believe Bush takes direction well.) The picture has all the hallmarks of Rovian symbolism, but is still hijacked by Cheney, to whom everyone is deferring.

Whether the photo is posed or not, it's still somewhat troubling (as The BAG observed originally) that Bush looks completely relaxed for someone who just gave the OK to bomb the shit out of another country. (The BAG's language was much more polite, of course.)

Just a comment - At least two previous posters made the (afaict incorrect) observation that the white binder is being used as a coaster. On my monitor, the cup is clearly on the desk behind the binder. One give away is that a cup sitting on the binder would be leaning at an angle. Not that this really has much impact on the subject at hand... :)

Wish I had more to add, but I really enjoy reading the analysis on this site!

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