May 15, 2002

Fund-raising photo creates a smokescreen…

The Bush administration is catching heat for offering a photo of the president, taken on 9/11, as a fund-raising promotion. Donors received the photo, as part of a 3-picture set, when they made a minimum $150 donation at a recent gala for major corporations. While the gesture is certainly in questionable taste, critics should focus their attention elsewhere. For example, as reported in the New York Times:

Among the companies making the top donations of $250,000 each tonight were the the American International Group, Chevron, the El Paso Corporation, Microsoft, Philip Morris and Union Pacific, fund-raisers said. All have issues before the government, and the executives of one, Chevron, were represented by the American Petroleum Institute last year in meetings before Vice President Cheney’s energy task force. Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, is a former Chevron executive.

I certainly think that offering the photo politicizes the events of 9/11 in an unsavory way. But, then, political fund-raising is often an unsavory business in which Democrats and Republicans alike find themselves making tasteless decisions to chase the almighty dollar.

The press focuses on drama because it plays well according to the inherent narrative bias of journalism. The photo is the center of drama, and it adds visual tension (and a snippy ethical element) to a “story” that is easily presented and easily digested. And it draws fussy sound-bites from opponents. The important controversy, however, will be found in the thirteenth paragraph of the Times story.

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