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« August 28, 2005 - September 3, 2005 | Main | September 11, 2005 - September 17, 2005 »

7 posts from September 4, 2005 - September 10, 2005

Sep 10, 2005

Laura: Just Say N.O.











So, Laura didn't know the name of the hurricane?

So Laura thinks the idea that race played a role in George's foot dragging is "disgusting?"  (...Somehow, Florida voters seem to get pretty good Federal response when the winds start to blow.)

I've been tracking the Bush's patronization of blacks for years (1, 2, 3).  It's only now, though -- against the Administration's negligence in addressing Katrina -- that we can more plainly see the photo ops and the compassion talk for how little it is.  What I find most interesting about these images of Laura Bush visiting hurricane survivors at the Cajundome is that they were taken by a White House photographer and posted on the White House web site.  Besides the one image where Laura is shaking hands, she comes off like the rich, white, out-of-touch alien that she is.  If these were the best images the White House could put together (characterized by passive resistance, hesitancy and awkwardness), I'd hate to see the worst.

These people are devastated, in shock and angry.  The have next-to-no personal space or control over that space.  Not only does Mrs. Bush randomly interject herself inside those boundaries, she further can't seem to keep her hands off people.  (From my reading, it seems that almost every physical advance is uninvited.)

Whenever you see images of Mrs. Bush in public, she conveys the feeling of someone moving from spot to spot in service of the camera.  Because she and the President show little evidence of compassion or outreach beyond the incessant act of documenting the fact, these images look painfully like gestures when you would think unselfconscious support and solidarity would come a lot more easily.

(images: Krisanne Johnson/White House.  Sept. 2, 2005. Cajundome at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.  September 2, 2005. At

Sep 08, 2005

Banned On The Bayou


Before anyone gets slap-happy over the candor exhibited by the media at the height of the Katrina disaster, consider that it happened in a near total political vacuum.  Certainly, with the Bush PR machine reasserting itself in a directed (read: take-no-prisoners) effort to regain control of the disaster narrative, you can expect the media intimidation and arm twisting to be nothing short of punishing.

Of course, the speculation is that thousands of bodies (as well as goodness knows what other catastrophes and complications) are yet to to be found in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  Surely, there is no shortage of reporters and photographers expecting to cover the effort.  Still, if Bush/Rove has anything to say about it, the media and the public will remain less the wise as to whatever is encountered, be it epidemiological, environmental, technological or humanitarian.


Ostensibly, the bias against photography is to respect the dignity of victims. (It's the same line that has justified hiding the returning caskets of American soldiers killed in Iraq.)  The real reason, however, is to stem the devastatingly bad publicity arising from plainly devastating images like the one above -- as well as anything worse.

(The fact that the crisis in now ten days old and we are still seeing images like this one below --appearing today in a NYT front page article specifically about the abundance of corpses downtown -- is the kind of visual damnation that even Rove can't counterspin.)


FEMA may be run by political hacks that are inept in the face of humanitarian tragedy.  But what hacks do know how to do is respond to political disasters.  As a consequence, we have the edict in the news clipping above that appeared as a minor item in yesterday's Times.  (Perhaps, instead of detaching FEMA from the Homeland Security Department, as some have proposed, it should be transferred to the Pentagon which has already figured out how to both appropriate and embed reporters at the same time.)


In light of the new media "restrictions" (read: "censorship"), it's not surprising the NYT was relegated to photographing one of these rescue boats from shore on Tuesday, rather than from a passenger seat.

I'm sure the guns are for fending off psychologically deranged residents and roaming bands of desperados, and the masks are for protecting the skin against the toxic waters.  If that's simply the case, however, how come I keep imagining the weapons as a show of force against the media and the masks symbolizing rescue workers under gag order?

(image 1: New York Times. September 7, 2005. p. A21. image 2 : James Nielson/ AFP -- Getty Images.  September 1, 2005.  New Orleans. image 3: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.  September 8, 2005.  New Orleans.  New York Times, p. A19.  Note: image cropped for appearance here. image 4: Chang W. Lee for The New York Times. September 7, 2005. p. A17.)

More Shame


Not only did Kos have a devastating post on Tuesday regarding FEMA's employment of firefighters as PR props during Bush's Katrina visit, he also presented the visual smoking gun.  Although the photo is damning enough, I was further interested in the emotional cost of Bush's interference on the responders themselves.

Billmon expanded on the story with this link to the Salt Lake Tribune. 


In the Salt Lake piece, this shot (with caption) couldn't be more illustrative of the frustration caused by FEMA's inanity.  What else would you expect when men -- who were desperately needed in NO -- are forced to sit in a conference room in an Atlanta Sheraton and undergo training as "community-relations" officers?

Ff2    Ff3

Ff5    Ff6

Going back to Bush and the firefighters: if I was specifically skilled in responding to a disaster, and I was turned into a human prop, I'm sure -- whether out of embarrassment, shame, frustration, passive protest or some combination -- I wouldn't be able to look up either.


Of course, the impression of Bush is also curious to consider.  Unfortunately, there's no way to read into it accurately.  He could be bored and annoyed.  But he could just as easily be overheated and breathing hard. 

Beyond just evidence of exploitation, however, the overall photo of Bush and the firefighters has some interesting dynamics.

What seems most unique about this shot is that the entourage is "between photo ops" and Dubya isn't aware of the camera.  Given that Bush's public persona is built around the theme of solidarity and utter compassion, I believe the most honest (and revealing) element of the photo is how completely disconnected Bush is from the other men.  It's as if the picture was divided by that tree between Bush and the fireman in the yellow hat, and we were really looking at separate images.

If I didn't know the back story, I might argue that the firefighters just happened to be walking ahead.  Knowing the politics of the situation though, it seems reasonable to assume they were feeling had.

(image 1: REUTERS/Larry Downing. Biloxi, Mississippi.September 2, 2005. At YahooNews.  image 2: Leah Hogsten/Salt Lake City Tribune.)

Sep 06, 2005

Blinded By The Light?

Wednesday, August 31st 


Thursday, September 1st 


Thursday, September 1st 


Friday, September 2nd 


Friday, September 2nd


Saturday, September 3rd

Certainly, most of the Katrina images last week were unvarnished and pulled no punches.  At the same time, however, I'm wondering how much of what we saw was still edited according to the taste of a mainstream viewing audience (MSVA?) that tends to alternate in disaster preference between sensationalism and denial.

To illustrate, I go back to where I began in focusing on the Katrina disaster: The New Orleans Superdome.  Years from now, when the country looks back on "the events of August 28th; 29th; 30th, etc.," I wonder if they will recognize The Superdome (in combination with the Convention Center) as the "ground zero" or the emotional epicenter of the disaster.   To what extent will this site still be recalled as a monument for the failure to stand up for the country's most weak and vulnerable?  Alternatively, we might also ask how much and for how long the Superdome might even remain a significant part of the recollection.  (If you look at the latest cover of The Economist, for example, notice how the Superdome and the Convention Center merge with the city in a gauzy background.)

In questioning whether the painful memory of the Superdome will be honored and preserved, I can't help wondering if the recording and preservation of the event was largely inhibited from the start.

Because I was focused on The Superdome from the beginning of the crisis, I scanned the media every day for visual evidence of the trauma, fear and squalor inside that stadium.  (And Now We Are In Hell -- Link).  Somehow, however, I just never came across images of the despair as so painfully described in the written accounts.   

Finally, on Saturday morning -- coinciding with the near-total evacuation of the building -- I decided to go back through the YahooNews photos (using the search terms "Katrina" and "Superdome") to find the images I must have missed which would illustrate "life" inside that building over those past five days.  Starting from Saturday and working backward, I went through all 200+ newswire photos until I arrived at Monday, August 29 -- which was the point at which people began filling up the stadium. 

What I discovered was disturbing but not surprising.

Continue reading "Blinded By The Light?" »

Your Turn: There's Water and There's The Barrel


Several of you wrote me about this lead image on the NYT website Saturday. 

The on-line caption read: Troops from the National Guard handed out food and supplies this morning at the convention center in New Orleans. The newspaper image accompanied a story about the long-term emotional effects of hurricane Katrina. The caption read: Refugees received food from the National Guard yesterday in new Orleans.  The emotional impact of the disaster will stay with some people for a long time, according to experts.

I was wondering what makes this image so resonant?  Of course, most of your messages referred to the illusion of the gun pointing at the boy.  How much can one realistically draw from this, however, and how fair is it to focus on? 

On the other hand, are there more practical dynamics of militarization? 



For example, is pressure rising on the media to transform the theme of humanitarian crisis into an us-against-them law-and-order story?  ...Or is security just a reasonable (if not central) aspect of the situation right now?

(UPDATE 9/7/05 10:41a.m. PST -- The latter two images appeared in this mornings NYT's  Katrina slide show for "Day Nine."  The first shot shows California national guard troops patrolling Napoean St. in New Orleans.  The second shot shows the creation of a temporary jail at a New Orleans bus station.)

(image 1: Vincent Laforet for the New York Times.  September 4, 2005.  New York Times, p. A20. image 2: Nicole Bengivenu for the New York Times. September 6, 2005. image 3; Chang Lee for the New York Times. September 6, 2005.

Sep 04, 2005

Icon Help


Yesterday, Condi was on the ground in Alabama kicking off the Bush/Rove PR blitz to counterspin the Katrina meltdown (and pin it on local Democrats).   

Lending an assist, the caption of the AFP photo above (taken in July, but featured on YahooNews yesterday), stated that Condi "dismissed claims black people were discriminated against in hurricane-devastated New Orleans."  (I should note: AFP is the photo agency that was also at the center of the biased "looting caption scandal" that flared last week.)

Obviously, the photo establishes her credentials as someone who can speak for the blacks of New Orleans, doesn't it?

If you're liberal, there are superficial ways of spinning this image to achieve a more palatable effect.  For example, you could say that Rice has been largely invisible on matters of race, or that her political instincts have been mostly "in the dark." 

However, by portraying Condi as a black icon, the photo blatantly and viscerally serves to burnish the administration's "black identity."  As such, it subliminally aids Bush as he launches a major push to repair a major credibility gap opened up in his ongoing mission to for increase African-American support.


But back to the real world.

It's easy to gather the cameras around on (newsmaker) Sunday and sex it up with white boys like councilman Henry Barker of Bayou La Batre, Alabama.  (Notice the big ABC logo to the left of Hank's right arm.)  But where was Condi (who, we are now being reminded, has deep roots in the Gulf Coast) while her brothers and sisters were dying in the streets?

Continue reading "Icon Help" »

The Week America Lost New Orleans: A Presidential Retrospective (#2)


Katrina Disaster -- Day 2
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Still Tuesday.  George is backstage at the Naval Air Station in San Diego holding a "Presidential guitar" given to him by country music singer, Mark Wills.

By the time I see this shot in the afternoon, I am profoundly aware of the cataclysm on the Gulf Coast.  The image itself has gone viral, rounding the liberal blogosphere as evidence of a President fundamentally out-of-tune with reality.

Filled with horror from the Gulf pictures, I see all kinds of dynamics in the shot.

First, it's hard not to register Bush's care-to-the-wind attitude.  If he's aware of what's transpiring in the South -- even if he's feigning non-chalance -- I expect to see more tension in his body.  Instead, he's just casually looking off.

Second, I am fascinated by the way Bush relates (or fails to relate) to Wills.  Of course, as has been noted many times at the BAG, one must be careful about drawing too many conclusions from any one instant in time.  The interaction between these two men, however, seems indicative of many fundamental problems with Bush.

For instance, it seems Wills (like other Presidential advisors) has instructed Bush on a procedure, and has been thoroughly specific as to how to properly carry it out.  Bush, however, seems to ignore both the adviser and the advice.  In response, Wills (like a Richard Clark, or a Joe Wilson, or a General Shinseki) sees Bush "getting it wrong" and and tries to remediate Bush's handling of things.  (Notice the concentration and precision Wills directs to the execution.) Still, Bush remains oblivious -- even though his hand, in playing a G chord, is set one fret too high.

Continue reading "The Week America Lost New Orleans: A Presidential Retrospective (#2)" »

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