At no time in history have presidential politics and popular celebrity collided as much as they do today in the fusion of video and social media. Within today’s overheated media climate, President Obama has employed media to promote himself, his programs, and his party in an array of public appearances with A-list celebrities like Jay Leno, Barbara Walters (The View) and Oprah. The list goes on and on as any internet search will indicate.
So why should the White House now draw a red line in the sand and threaten legal action against Samsung Corporation for tweeting a photo of the president with the Boston Red Sox team and with star David Ortiz? The White House statement from press secretary Jay Carney sounds a lot like that well known scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault is “shocked, shocked” because “gambling is going on in here!”
“As a rule the White House objects to attempts to use the president’s likeness for commercial purposes. And we certainly object in this case,” says Carney, in a quote from the Wall Street Journal.
But why should Samsung get painted as the villain when a White House publicity stunt goes awry? After all, this wasn’t President Obama’s first “selfie” sent out to the media universe. Even the liberal NPR has complained of Obama’s fondness “of appearing in as many pop culture venues as possible.” Enough already!
Perhaps the White House pique is because the president wasn’t getting the mileage out of it that he used to. The Washington Post on April 2 reported that Obama’s happy selfie with Ortiz was retweeted a paltry 39,000 times. Compare that with the viral one million retweets received by Ellen DeGeneres after she hosted an ABC Oscar broadcast.
The Wall Street Journal report of the White House objection fairly notes at least one occasion when a coat company put up a billboard in New York City showing President Obama wearing one of its coats. That egregious use of the presidential image is rightly objected to. But the White House objection to tweeting an event which it willingly wanted to advertise hits the high end of the hypocrisy scale.
Who would argue that the cheery photo of a smiling president dangling a Boston Red Sox team shirt wasn’t meant for public consumption? And what could be more immediate for public media consumption than Twitter?
But no, we are to believe that President Obama was sharing a private intimate moment with millions of baseball fans. How could the White House possibly know that there are extensive commercial associations with networks, basketball stars, celebrities, major league baseball? It’s all so shocking, shocking.