Obama, the narrative goes, had the unmitigated gall — if not terrible lack of international decorum — to pose for a photograph along with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Britain’s David Cameron during the memorial service Tuesday for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. A news photographer captured the scene in all its glory.
Obama enjoyed his personal photo-op with the other world leaders, the right-wing media say. Michelle Obama, sitting to his left, did not approve.
Some narrative. If only it were true.
Call it The Selfie of 2013 — which, in truth, was nothing more than another overplayed non-story by the president’s critics on Fox News and conservative talk radio.
Of course, there’s nothing like a non-story to get Obama’s harshest critics all aflutter.
Such nonsense even made an appearance in London, where Cameron was asked about the photograph during Parliament’s question time. “‘When a member of the Kinnock family asked me for a photograph I thought it was only polite to say yes.’ Turns out, the Danish prime minister is the daughter-in-law of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Cameron added, ‘In my defense, I’d say that Nelson Mandela played an extraordinary role in his life and in his death in bringing people together,’” the Washington Post reported.
The man whose camera caught The Selfie of 2013, news photographer Robert Schmidt, wrote in his blog that “photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.”
There you have it.
But those on the farthest of media’s right have been relentless, shamelessly so. On Wednesday, MediaMatters.org detailed a devilish list of examples: Rush Limbaugh called Thorning-Schmidt the “Denmark Babe;” a Fox News contributer called her the “Danish Pastry;” a Fox News anchor called her “that leggy blond Danish woman.” There were worse, more sexist examples, as well.
So, one casual photograph at a memorial service caused an uproar over the president’s perceived flirty behavior and an onslaught of demeaning, unprofessional comments about Denmark’s prime minister. Both are deplorable.
Turns out that Schmidt, the news photographer, has become the voice of reason about The Selfie of 2013. We applaud his restraint.
“It was interesting to see politicians in a human light because usually when we see them it is in such a controlled environment. Maybe this would not be such an issue if we, as the press, would have more access to dignitaries and be able to show they are human as the rest of us,” he wrote.
“I confess too that it makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities, instead of things of true importance.”