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Jul 24, 2008

The Trip: Let's Get Small


Rather minimizing.

That is the last word, both visually and editorially, from the NYT on Obama's happening in Berlin.

Reprising Hillary Clinton's "tastes great, less filling" attack narrative, the news analysis headlined "Obama, Vague on Issues, Pleases Crowds in Europe" rolls out a litany of quotes from Europeans critical of Obama, matched by a laundry list of subjects Obama's Tiergarten speech seemingly failed to tackle more clearly, from Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Afghanistan all the way to chlorinated chickens.

If these mass rallies have their time and place, like the one yesterday -- the next one slated for the concluding night of the Democratic Convention -- one can also see why the Obama campaign decided, back in Ohio, to dramatically curtail them.  It's a sad commentary on the traditional media, however, to equate a joyful and near-spontaneous rallying of the masses with the demonstration of superficiality.

Update: 12:29 AM PST:  Just got an email about a very specific peculiarity that puts a further spin on this shot. Can you figure it out?  The answer is at the top of the thread...

(image: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press. Berlin. July 24, 2008)


...Yeah, the image is printed in reverse. It's probably just an accident, but it does put Obama on the far left, looking off to the left. (Thanks, Gregg.)

The press wants a dazzling campaign full of thrust and parry, charges and countercharges, even a soupçon of scandal. But it's not in Obama's interest to give advantages away to the lackluster John McCain. Obama's speech in Berlin didn't have to accomplish much - he just had to show the Europeans what he looks like, and show Americans that he is indeed a world-class figure. Neither of these goals called for anything dazzling or even substantive, and the conservative-by-nature Obama didn't offer anything more than that.

It's good that Obama doesn't take campaign advice from the media. He perceives that they don't wish him well, and indeed they don't. If Obama had been brilliant and daring in Berlin it would not have netted him votes even in states with lots of people whose families came from Germany. Obama's political instincts are correct - don't antagonize the press, but don't kowtow to it either. So the Berlin speech was not a tour de force ... but it didn't need to be. In any game of strategy the higher the payoff the higher the risk. If you don't need a Hail Mary play late in the fourth quarter, run your ground game. It's boring but effective.

FYI This photo (with this orientation) ran large on today's front pages of both the Daily Mirror and the Independent.

check out this 360 panorama of the crowd.

click on speaker to hear obama speak while photo is rotating.

Yeah -- they flopped it. Disconnects him from his hearers. And disconnected, he is also more a Black spot against a sea of adoring pasty white flesh.

In the old days a reversed photo could be reversed accidentally simply by flipping the films onto the wrong side. In the digital age, I believe, an image has to be reversed intentionally, it can't happen by chance. The possibility of an errant flip/flop of a photo is about 10+ old, it just doesn't happen anymore. The NYT isn't still running films, are they?

It's amazing how many major publications did not highlight the estimated attendance of 215,000 people. That's news.

Are you sure it is reversed? I thought so at first because of the lettering on the large horizontal sign. But check this out: The lettering appears reversed there too.

i'm not convinced it's reversed either. how many times have you seen someone at a rally/sporting event holding their sign/banner/flag backwards or upside down? Very striking photo in any case.

This was not reversed--we're just seeing the OBAMA banner from the wrong side. Another frame from the same perspective is at Modern World has the larger frame at OBAMA still reads backwards there, but at the bottom edge, below the orange shirt, you can read an unflipped "Barack" banner.

It's interesting to compare the NY Times photo with this one on the Der Spiegel site.
The Times photo eliminates the context, deprives the viewer of information, and turns the scene into one that without a caption is nearly indecipherable. Where are we? At a concert, on a beach? Who is the black spec with no feet? There is no sense of Obama even speaking which I suppose fits the NYT spin that the event was superficial without substance.

The Der Spiegel shot, feels quite serious. There are variations of light. Complexity. You see the stretch of the crowd. Obama carries more weight. He's grounded.

Zoom in. Look just under Obama's armpit to see the punter with the camera. How many left-handed cameras have you seen lately? There are several more scattered among the crowd.

The Der Spiegel shot is definitely more even-handed and provides more context. The version at the Independent, which is quite close to the one posted here, at least has the stage at his feet:

Matt - are you saying it is reversed then? But look at the similar shot in the Independent. You can see the reversed banner, but also an un-reversed "Barack" on the wall in front, which indicates the photo is not reversed.

I think I am going to have to back down from my original assertion that the photo was flipped. This version: does seem to have both the reversed "ANGOLA" sign and a Barack sign that reads left to right.

The NYT pic still shows a singular man, arm raised, in front of 200,000 Germans. Just sayin'.

Also, if there were any doubt as to the intent behind Erlanger's use of the phrase "tone poem," I heard him use it again this morning on the radio. He fully meant it to be snarky.

Reflecting on your analysis, seems I might have got turned around on the orientation of the pic -- not to take anything away from the larger point about the visual/editorial minimization, though.

I was thinking, "Poor Angola dude! You got excellent coverage but reversed your sign!" But think about it- he is holding that banner up for the TV cameras, which are behind him, not in front of him. I think that explains the reversal.

When I flipped the image horizontally I found the composition that way actually diminished Obama. On the left, looking left, with the crowd mainly to the right I find he seems stronger, more in control. Flipped, and it seems he's about to be overwhelmed by the crowd.

The text coverage might not have been great, as pointed out by the Bag, and the photo does show a small figure in the literal sense but I see HUGE written all over this.

One figure who stands out among so so many.

They all have their arms up cheering! American flags waving! He may not have been too specific on his details, but his tone was good and his intentions seem to be honorable. Obama might just be able to make us proud to be Americans again. I'll vote for that.

I agree with Cougarhutch. If you mirror the image it loses something. I'm not sure why.

If you drop down to your next post (July 24 ’08), with that marvelous shot of McCain and Lindsey Graham in front of the Schmidt’s Fudge House, you reference the Berliner Morganpost slide show.

Pic 11 out of 77 is a shot taken that has Obama, at the end of the stage, with his right arm up, waving to the crowed. Based on the yellow/black political banner(to the right of Barak), and a lady waving a white sign with her left hand, it would appear that the NY Times pic was taken immediately before or after the Morgenpost shot. The position of the telepronter is such in both pics, that a step either to the right or left, with a change in the waving arm, would be a transition for either photo. It is clear that the Times image was not reversed.

Sorry about that, I really would have preferred the Times transposing the pic.

To flip or not to flip. Don't think that is the important point at issue here. I was going to post that the Der Spiegel photo 9 was a much better shot, but Nina Berman said it all and better. What I will say about the NYT shot is that it is exclusive........that is, it isolates Obama in a non-specific crowd of indeterminate numbers. That makes it easier to downplay the number of people actually there. And apparently that is what the US media are doing. I've been hearing 100,000 when actually some estimates are up to 215,000. Quite a difference. Establishment sources cannot admit to that because it leads to the thought that people all over the world are eager, hungry, for the US to come back online. Does anyone really, ever, thing McC could raise this much of a crowd anywhere? That's what the M$M doesn't want you to think about.

I don't get the "minimizing" thing. The perspective emphasizes the size of the crowd and he does look small, but small in the way a man is small against the backdrop of the sea. I'll guess no photographers were allowed on the stage or adjacent to it during the speech, dictating this more distant perspective.

Does Obama wear a bulletproof vest?

Crowds of this size at political gatherings are almost unheard of anymore, worldwide. If few politicians could garner such crowds is a good question but a better one is how many would dare to stand up there? Stand up in such a venue where there is essentially no barrier to entry.

Colin Powell, famously it is said, if not truthfully, refused to run for President because of his wife's fear for his life. Would anyone care to guess at the orders of magnitude of enmity Obama has arrayed against him compared to Powell?

With these thoughts in my mind and in the minds of many, either consciously or just below the conscious level, am I the only one who doesn't cringe a bit at such images of huge crowds and politicians?

That image is absolutely NOT reversed. I covered that event and the guy with the Angola scarf had it backwards the entire time. It was shot from a pooled location, which might explain the slightly different angle.

So BHO isn't a flip-flopper in this image, after all. He's just lookin' left and wavin' left (while leanin' ever so slighty right). This man has balance.

Let's flip back for a moment to another major BagMan point: "It's a sad commentary on the traditional media, however, to equate a joyful and near-spontaneous rallying of the masses with the demonstration of superficiality."

Compared to the severely cropped NYT image that makes the joyful mass rally — um, isn't that politically incorrect terminology in Germany? — seem more crowded and nearly spontaneous, the wider angle Der Spiegel image gives a better contextual view of the event. Consider the artificial lighting, speakers, news cameras, stage, podium, potted plants, and other props (not to mention the planning, setup, crowd control, security, and teardown) that made this event the theatrical production it actually was.

One might ask how much time, money, and labor was required to create this spontaneous demonstration?

A superficial, whirlwind tour of foreign capitols in July isn't going to make Obama a statesman, and it won't mean much in Missouri in November.


JFK never wore a bulletproof vest, neither did his brother. didn't matter. if someone wants to kill him, they will.

That's reassuring Charlie.

rapier said: With these thoughts in my mind and in the minds of many, either consciously or just below the conscious level, am I the only one who doesn't cringe a bit at such images of huge crowds and politicians?

No, but for another reason. When the masses meet lone politicos in staged gatherings, who risks more: the Crowd, or the politician? Each feeds off the other, and too many cheers can drown out criticism.

Obama is a good speechifier, but what we're seeing now is the demo. If he becomes President, we won't see images like this any more: the Office will change the Man.

the total morons pushing the new "liberal fascist" meme insist this picture looks like a Nazi salute to the German faithful (who are surely nursing fantasies of a restored Reich secretly in their bosoms).

The liberal fascist theory is playing very, very well out in here in God/Gun country (Michigan backwoods) and I know people who look at this picture and think "Negro Hitler". Yes it's completely stupid. Just sayin'.

As BnN so frequently demonstrates, visual perception is mostly in the eye of the beholder, moronic or not. Combine that with national politics — where perception (not reality) is everything — and even a carefully staged photo opportunity may create some unintended consequences.

An American candidate pictured in front of an American flag is iconic and expected as part of the process.

However, a candidate pictured in front of a German Victory Column is unexpected, and more than a little ominous (I wonder how this played in France). Not because it raises any unfounded comparisons to Hitler, but because it raises the question of whether BHO will really ban torture and end American military misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Barack's closing words in Berlin don't provide much clarity:

People of Berlin - and people of the world - the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

But in whose name will history be remade, exactly? And what happens to those who don't particularly want a makeover? If this is Progress, it's headed in the opposite direction.

Given how closely this photograph has been scrutinized, I'm amazed nobody has mentioned this yet. Directly above the "Angola" sign is a laptop that someone is holding above the crowd. If you look closely at the screen (and use a little common sense), you can see that it appears to be running running a webcam.

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