Aim High, Shoot Low

Kevin Schoelzel


Last week, in an interview for The New Republic, President Obama told reporters that he went skeet shooting “all the time” at Camp David. [1] This statement quickly became the shot heard round the blogosphere, receiving criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Liberals insisted that the president should not sugarcoat his stance on guns. Conservatives jumped on the quote, questioning the authenticity of the president’s statement. [2]

Doubling down, after initially denying to supply pictures, the Obama administration released a photograph from this summer of the president shooting a rifle. [3] The newsrooms and cyberspace went berserk.  In the wake of the political fallout that resulted from the interview, perhaps the biggest mistake the White House made was the statement released with the photograph, which insisted that the picture was not to be photoshopped or altered.

Obama is the Internet president. He enlisted the tech gurus of Facebook, Google, and Twitter to help digitize his campaign, and in the process rewrote the book on American elections. [4] Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape and a godfather figure in Internet startups, praised “Obama was the first politician I dealt with who understood that the technology was a given and that it could be used in new ways.” [5] However, in the case of this photograph, it looks like the technology is bound to revert to some of its old ways, namely posting derisive user-generated content. Americans just cannot resist cropping photos and putting them online. Surely, Obama knows that his insistence that the photograph not be tampered with is doomed.  If anything, the demand to keep the picture unsullied only further emboldened computer savvy “skeeters” (a term the Obama team has coined to describe critics of his gun policy).

Already, countless sites have altered the photograph. The president’s supporters have taken the picture and set it to the backdrop of Osama Bin Laden’s compound, a nod to Obama’s successes. However, his detractors have Obama shooting everything from Bambi to the Constitution.  The prize for best recrop goes to a side-by-side picture of the Queen Elizabeth firing a machine gun, flippantly dismissing President Obama’s recreational rifle. [6]

To be sure, the Obama photo is no Dukakis in his tank, but it looks just as awkward. [7] The photograph will not redirect the gun debate, but it has given the president’s opponents new ammunition and rekindled their animosity. This photograph will not be a rallying point for his supporters, for they would rather sweep the embarrassing picture aside as quickly as possible.  Regardless, it will float around on the Internet and continue to generate countless memes and someday may grace a chapter in a Political Science textbook about botched press releases: to his credit, a rarity in the Obama White House.   Politicians often try to frame discussions in ways that are appealing to their stances and win over impressionable supporters, but sometimes these efforts backfire. In this instance, I think the president just photobombed himself.















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