Monday, January 23, 2006

Speaking of Rove, am I the only person who thinks the recent stories about photos of Bush and Jack Abramoff are actually the work of the White House, engaging in some Rovian political jiujitsu?

First we were told a couple of weeks ago (in Time) that

Bush aides are ... trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together

Now reporters at The Washingtonian and (again) Time are saying that an anonymous source has shown them a small number of photos of the two men together. (The source, we're told, wouldn't allow them to be published, although Time says the tabloids are probably going to pay for the photos and publish them eventually.)

If this is the work of the White House, orchestrating a phony embarrassing leak, it's brilliant. With regard to Abramoff, we've been wondering what the Bushies might be trying to hide, and now we supposedly know the answer: What they're trying to hide is this series of photos. So now, instead of trying to get to the bottom of the story of the relationship between the two men, we'll all fixate on the photos -- they must be really bad if the White House doesn't want them to leak.

In fact, it sounds as if they're just suggestive enough to (the White House hopes) get Democrats and us lefty noisemakers howling, yet innocuous enough to make us sound as if we're wildly overreacting:

In one shot that TIME saw, Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in southern Texas.... Another photo shows Bush shaking hands with Abramoff in front of a window and a blue drape. The shot bears Bush's signature, perhaps made by a machine. Three other photos are of Bush, Abramoff and, in each view, one of the lobbyist's sons (three of his five children are boys). A sixth picture shows several Abramoff children with Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert...

Most of the pictures have the formal look of photos taken at presidential receptions. The images of Bush, Abramoff and one of his sons appear to be the rapid-fire shots -- known in White House parlance as clicks -- that the President snaps with top supporters before taking the podium at fund-raising receptions. Over five years, Bush has posed for tens of thousands of such shots -- many with people he does not know. Last month 9,500 people attended holiday receptions at the White House, and most went two by two through a line for a photo with the President and the First Lady. The White House is generous about providing copies -- in some cases, signed by the President -- that become centerpieces for "walls of fame" throughout status-conscious Washington.

If I'm right about this, the White House has now deftly framed the Bush-Abramoff question: instead of "How cozy was W. with Jack?," the question has become "What exactly was going on in and around those pictures?" It's a question I'm sure the White House is more than ready to answer -- and once those answers emerge, all speculation about the relationship between the two men will cease in the mainstream press.

No comments: