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Oct 06, 2007

Obama Reaching


If you stand back a bit and observe the media coverage of the campaign, what you'll see -- with all the handicapping, and obsession with war chests and premature polling -- is a hermetic condition in which the press first creates, then seeks ways to feed its assumptions.

This photo sequence in last week's print edition of TIME is a visual example of that loop.

The story -- blathering about how Obama has apparently stalled in his heavyweight match with Clinton -- is titled: Out of Reach? (For fuller context, including some "proof positive" polling data cleverly aligned with the photography, check the full page image here.)

Left-to-right and top-to-bottom, the media message is fairly clear: Obama's campaign has become... a reach, a stretch, a dream beyond his grasp -- and, in a more bodily sense... a fading, a falling back, a disappearing act.

I have my own theory about Obama's reach, however -- which, not coincidentally, lines up with the stated strategy of David Axelrod, Obama's campaign guru.  I refer you to the following snippet buried in a NYT front page article last week about the big deal fact Hillary out-raised Obama by $75 million to $63 million.

Asked if the bulk of political momentum favored Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama right now, Mr. Axelrod added: “Howard Dean had plenty of momentum in the fall of 2003, when everyone was anointing him as the Democratic nominee. I’m happy if the Clintons want to do victory laps in October; I’ll take ours in January and February,” when the primary season will be well under way.

Perhaps Obama is inexperienced or overcautious, just like his opposition would have everyone believe.  Alternately, however, the man plays a lot of poker, and has not been a person to overplay his hand.  Another indication of strategic reserve is found right in the second sentence of the TIME headline.  It reads: "He has charisma to burn."

If that's the case and Obama is simply pacing himself, its seems that visually, TIME might actually have these two pictures out of order.

(images: Samantha Appleton - Noor.  TIME.  October 8, 2007)


Obama has beautiful hands. I find the second picture, with the arm raised, inspiring. Perhaps, the media is implying that the dream is out of reach for that individual over there, but I see the gesture collectively, as speaking to me: Obama has vision. The gesture has lots of religious overtones. Obama is a new Creation. He can lead all of us to the promised land.

I agree with the BAG's analysis and am interested that neither the BAG nor I bought the obvious "out of reach" allegory. Maybe we are just in the denial stage of grief?

hat-tip: John Lucaites and hands!

The first thing I thought--and after reading your analysis--the last thing was Obama reaching OUT to ME to US to give us new hope. I hope most people saw it that way.

One good speech, like that Dem convention speech that launched him, and he's golden.

We're waiting....


My initial take was that the pictures were meant to canonize him. So beautiful, haloed, exalted... how are they biasing us this time?

I like those pics. Very arty. But I agree they show a gap... I'm always suspicious of side views of speeches that avoid showing an audience. It's like a pull quote without context.

About the article, two things that bug me:
a) Stories that use the polling horserace -- usually useless until after New Years -- as the news hook for political analysis. Polls-as-news is lazy reporting.

b) Stories about how the reliance of the polls in news stories is lazy reporting. I mean, there are dozens per cycle, and yet, usually the same writers complaining are the ones doing it again the following week.

If you want to horserace, there are better metrics than polls at this point. Number of donations. Counties with strong ground operations. Size of crowd. Local media coverage. Especially when you're dealing with Iowa and New Hampshire. Clinton could poll through the roof -- polls are a poor indication of Iowa or NH's ultimate choice. That's why there are always these "surprise" strong placement, ergo, wins... Kerry! Clinton, WJ! McCain! Carter! Reagan! Etc!

I know the Times knows this. But still continues this filling-of-empty-space that is political reporting pre-Primary. It's like jazz musicians, improvising slightly off a theme to fill some empty measures until the bassist gets back from his weed break.

Seriously though, Obama's ground operation in Iowa is sick (as in good.) Very strong operation, although very young -- I fear alot of the Dean team that turned off the activists by caucus time. Edwards has been building quite a bit too, there alot of good will for him left over from 2004, when he was the candidate of "hope." I don't know much about Clinton's operation, but I imagine Vilsak has organized his true believers.

But polls... I don't know how you weigh the samples to reflect likely turnout unless you do so on a county-by-county basis, and involve a certain measure of ESP...

ref : “Left-to-right and top-to-bottom, the media message is fairly clear: Obama's campaign has become... a reach, a stretch, a dream beyond his grasp -- and, in a more bodily sense... a fading, a falling back, a disappearing act.


imho, this is clearly (and i daresay, in an elegant manner) what the image conveys to the viewer. Besides the elegant composition, the simple construct amplifies the ability of the image and its message to be quickly understood by... almost anybody: a universal gesture; this image is transcendant idealism.

fwiw, the image reminds me of the now iconic 20th century works of Leni Riefenstahl, in her stunning 1938 film, Olympia ~ Black and White gestures of the human body during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

The text context that surrounds the image is an essay in which the writer wants to talk about precisely what the associated visual image quickly / viscerally conveys to the viewer -cum- reader: ‘a stretch’ and ‘a falling back’.

In that regard, the image and text messages are identical : in a perfect harmony, yes?

Yet, from your comment, BAGman ~ your message is that somehow, "something is wrong with this picture." What? ...the image is entirely successful; indeed, we see the image is even eye pleasing = artistically satisfying.

i submit that, the image is not the issue, here, at all; Rather, it is the message it conveys so well with which you disagree : You don't like what this essay & its illustration are saying!

You choose a different message: “I have my own theory... he has reserves; he is... pacing himself, referring to an entirely different article, elsewhere, as a basis for your opinion.

OK... but within the expression of his message, BAGman rhetorically suggests = invites you to conclude that somehow this image = message is faux, contrived, otherwise invalid, thus. Let's boil it down: the context is a magazine article; the text is an essay... the image is an illustration (and a well-chosen one, most would agree) of what this writer wants to say, and well convey with his thousand words.

The question is not, then, is this image contrived ?

The image was chosen to illustrate a message = point-of-view. We are free to agree or disagree with this message. OTOH, imho the one thing that we can not conclude from this image = messenger by itself, is that the message this messenger conveys is either true or false, or part of a greater media conspiracy of messages to manufacture consent!

Ya know, it is what it is. Hillary DID raise more than Obama. He IS behind her in the polls, slipping or not. If I wanted, as an editor, a photo to illustrate this (and TIME is really a photo mag with a little news tucked in), I would pick Obama, too. Hillary's photo is every where. Obama's better looking. Also more loose, dramatic, less stilted and stiff. All makes for a more eye-grabbing photo. Even as a loose photo lying on a table, it's an eye-catcher. Obama is beautiful and I haven't seen a bad photo of him. Hillary, otoh, is not all that photogenic any more. Plus we've had images of her for 15 years.

That said, Obama's photo is of someone reaching for something, out of reach, yes, but possible. And aren't we all? If they used this photo to denigrate Obama, it just might backfire. Only if you already hate Obama will you see this as grabby. His large bony hands are interesting and reaching for that unknown possibility that we are all hoping for in 2008.

It is interesting that the top image shows the man AND his arm/hand reaching out in glorious enthusiasm. The next (lower) photo shows a slippage of the man allowing only his arm and hand to show. If that's subliminal, it's right up there with airbrushing ice cubes on liquor ads.

h/t to M.Gonzo for Leni reference. Brilliant catch.

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