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the Situation Room
May 4, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Photography editors and designers comment on the famous Situation Room photograph.

As powerful as it is, it is also good for lulz.
posted by AceRock (111 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Headshot.
posted by sveskemus at 9:03 AM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I know it's a historic photograph and all that, but when I look at it, all I think is:

"Seriously, we spent a trillion dollars on this war, and we can't afford enough chairs for everyone?"
posted by madajb at 9:08 AM on May 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Does that General (or all Generals) always wear all those ribbons when hanging around in Washington? Or is it for special events like this? Because he looks like a jackass relative to everyone else.
posted by Rumple at 9:08 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd think you get dressed up to go see the president.
posted by sveskemus at 9:09 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


$5 says the guy with all the medals on his chest is actually updating his Facebook status.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:09 AM on May 4, 2011


That photo has so many details, the Burn bag, the NOFOR binder, the HP laptops, the coffee cups, the position of the sitters, the expressions (Hillary in particular), and of course, how Denis McDonough looks like central casting for an NSA director.
posted by The Whelk at 9:10 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


List of everyone in the photo
posted by blue mustard at 9:10 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Plus, they made the black guy sit in the corner and didn't even let him take off his jacket!
posted by briank at 9:11 AM on May 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


I think a photo has to be older than 72 hours before it can be called "famous" and need comments by designers.
posted by DU at 9:11 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


On another site, someone commented that Biden looks like he wandered in to ask "Hey, what are you guys watching?"
posted by Trurl at 9:12 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a shot of the room from the opposite angle.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:12 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was edited out of the version released to the press.
posted by squalor at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Everybody seems to think Clinton looks shocked, but I do that same hand-over-the mouth thing all the time. It's not shock, it's an absent gesture that comes from concentrating on something else. Besides, why would she be the only person in the room who's surprised or apalled or whatever?
posted by echo target at 9:18 AM on May 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Regarding the medals: I believe those (and other insignia) are considered an official part of that version of the uniform as much as the rank insignia and patches. So, yeah, all generals wear them when hanging out in Washington.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:18 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a photo has to be older than 72 hours before it can be called "famous" and need comments by designers.
orly?

posted by AceRock at 9:18 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Like one of the photographers said, I find the people crowded into the back fascinating. Although my first thought was: how come the general gets the nice chair while the president is crammed into a corner?
posted by epersonae at 9:20 AM on May 4, 2011


Obama should get that look on his face a little more often.
posted by jamjam at 9:21 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mattdidthat has us covered already.
posted by pjern at 9:22 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The videogame controller ones [I guess this is the boss battle?] reminded me that the SEAL team was reported to have worn helmet cams during the operation.

There's bound to be a Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six mod in the works for that.
posted by Trurl at 9:24 AM on May 4, 2011


We need a specialist to decrypt that photo laying on the laptop!
posted by orme at 9:26 AM on May 4, 2011


Here's what they were really watching.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYDGMj3xJQU
posted by Gungho at 9:26 AM on May 4, 2011


That "Dude with all the ribbons on his chest who looks dumb" is Brigadier General Marshall "Brad" Webb, and he's not a civilian, he's in his uniform. He's the assistant Commanding General of Joint Special Operations Command, probably the most qualified person actually sitting in that room.

His Wikipedia page is slim, but covers some of those "ribbons." With a Legion of Merit (with leaves), a Flying Cross, and a Bronze Star among several others, he's more "Hero" and less "stupid looking dude."
posted by TomMelee at 9:26 AM on May 4, 2011 [30 favorites]


I too love the pictures released by the White House's flickr-stream; somehow they all manage to portray the president in a good light.
posted by klue at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2011


how come the general gets the nice chair while the president is crammed into a corner?

I expect he was the most important person in the room in this situation.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading their commentaries, I find it interesting that the thing that makes this such a compelling photo is that it's an 'unguarded reaction' and an 'inside look'. This suggest to me that politicians could probably connect better with people if they're every moment in front of cameras wasn't so carefully calculated.

Since that doesn't happen on a regular basis, I guess we'll have to take these humanizing moments when we can get them, because they sure do carry a lot of power and fascination.
posted by quin at 9:33 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The important guy always stands in the back. He came in last after everyone else got everything working and he leaves first to kill more bad guys.
posted by DU at 9:34 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


From what I've read, people are crowded around like that because they probably had to move in order to have a good view of the screen. I'm sure they don't sit like that all the time whenever they're in the room.

And Webb probably got the nice chair because he was operating the communication equipment. The President is obviously the most important person in that room, the one with final say, but there's no way he handles the equipment.
posted by timdicator at 9:34 AM on May 4, 2011


Everybody seems to think Clinton looks shocked, but I do that same hand-over-the mouth thing all the time. It's not shock, it's an absent gesture that comes from concentrating on something else.

that's exactly what I thought too. The skin on her cheeks is wrinkled in that "I'm leaning my chin on my hand" way, as opposed to not, in an "I'm so shocked I gasped!" kind of way.

And now I'm expecting to hear a piece about this photo and the resulting memes in a few weeks on NPR's "On The Media."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


the white house photo stream is totally worth it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Related, National Geographic/PBS did a special on Pete Souza and the history of the White House photographers. It's an interesting look at the job, and the different relationships presidents had with the people covering them from the inside. (Not a surprise, Nixon had no patience for it whatsoever.) Souza talks about what, to him, makes for a good photograph and what he's trying to accomplish. You can watch it online here.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 9:38 AM on May 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


quin: " Since that doesn't happen on a regular basis, I guess we'll have to take these humanizing moments when we can get them, because they sure do carry a lot of power and fascination."

Well, here's the funny thing. The WH photographer probably took several hundred photos that day, and they weren't all "humanizing" enough to publish. Same with those classic, candid photos of celebrities that manage to capture so much of their personalities. Does the fact that it's someone's job to sift through lots of pictures and find the right ones count as guarding?
posted by roll truck roll at 9:40 AM on May 4, 2011


It makes the most powerful person in the room look small, burdened and alone. He is ultimately responsible for what is unfolding, but at that moment he's reduced to spectator status as the consequences of his choices are revealed in front of him. He looks grim and haunted. The responsibilities of that office will kill anyone who takes them seriously.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2011 [25 favorites]


Does that General (or all Generals) always wear all those ribbons when hanging around in Washington?

Depends soley on the uniform, which defines what is and is not worn. In DC, you spend a lot of time in service dress, and wear ribbons.

In this case, Brig Gen Webb is in the USAF Service Dress uniform, and badges and ribbons are required.

ADM Mullen is wearing the shirt of the USN Khaki Service Dress uniform, but not the jacket, which would have his rank on the shoulder boards, ribbons, and badges. Presumably, he's taken the jacket off.
posted by eriko at 9:43 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


This suggest to me that politicians could probably connect better with people if they're every moment in front of cameras wasn't so carefully calculated.

I really would like to think so... but if you, for example, just look at the primary battles (or Sarah Palin at any point) it is easy to come up with whole mountains of inane and downright stupid public and media reactions to unguarded moments by politicians. Unguarded moments can literal kill a political career overnight. Sometimes it is warranted (Meccaca (sp?) anyone?), sometimes it is not (the Dean scream), but it is easy to see why politicians are so tight-assed about their image and words.
posted by edgeways at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's a great picture, but I can't help thinking every time I see it how embarrassing it'll be when Hillary Clinton admits she just had the hiccups.
posted by cerebus19 at 9:45 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Trurl: "On another site, someone commented that Biden looks like he wandered in to ask "Hey, what are you guys watching?""

It's funny, Biden is the person my eyes go to first in the photo, then Obama, then Clinton. Biden knows what's going on; he knows what's at stake, but he's also seen a lot in his life and it's hard for him to get excited. The photo captures why he's too smart to be a good politician.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:47 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


The United States’ Director for Counterterrorism looks like she was just heading down to the cafeteria to grab a sandwich and heard a ruckus.
posted by Shepherd at 9:49 AM on May 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is a great, not just a historic, photograph. I reacted to it almost instantaneously when I first saw it. The framing, composition and timing are spot on, for many reasons.
posted by carter at 9:51 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why is National Security Advisor Tom Donilon being played by teevee's John Lithgow?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:53 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough by Peter Capaldi?

kind of?
posted by troika at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2011


Gates looks like he's seen this sort of live feed of a fire team op many times before and is just watching football or something.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:00 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


And Webb probably got the nice chair because he was operating the communication equipment. The President is obviously the most important person in that room, the one with final say, but there's no way he handles the equipment.

Yeah, on second glance I totally got that, it's just that instant impression thing. (I have been the admin assistant running the powerpoint while sitting in the Really Nice Chair.)
posted by epersonae at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2011


That photo has so many details, the Burn bag, the NOFOR binder, the HP laptops...

Is the 'burn bag' the thing between Biden and Obama that looks like a bag of Tim Horton's donuts?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:07 AM on May 4, 2011


Burn Bag
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


troika, I thought that was Peter Capaldi as well. Glad I'm not the only one!
posted by orrnyereg at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2011


I'm really very sorry, everyone.
posted by cmoj at 10:15 AM on May 4, 2011


orme: been thinking the same. looks like an inkjet print of a map to me..
posted by 3mendo at 10:22 AM on May 4, 2011


Pretty much nobody had ever heard of Audrey Tomason before this photo, if Google and Wikipedia are any indication.

But she's kind of cute.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:26 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


All those photoshoppers better be careful; the license agreement (or whatever it is called) at the bottom clearly states: ...The photograph may not be manipulated in any way ...

And if you break the law, well we all know that Obama takes no prisoners.
posted by TedW at 10:29 AM on May 4, 2011


I love the implication that it's not a "great" photo but "oh, what a moment!"

That IS photography.
Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson
posted by basicchannel at 10:30 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


What are they watching, anyway? Latest I heard was OBL died from natural causes.
posted by klue at 10:35 AM on May 4, 2011


The composition is fantastic, it really is a work of art.

This is an image about secrets -- the object of everyone's intense attention being out of frame, Hillary's binder, and the obscured photo on her laptop. The laptops themselves, open but blank, except Webb's. We don't know exactly what Webb is looking at, or what everyone else is looking at. We know they are in the secret room, and they are witnessing secret history unfold, but all we have are faces.

So we have to get as much information out of these faces as possible. That's what makes the photo so humanizing -- not that powerful people are caught in a candid moment, there are plenty of photos of that. It's an image that exploits our human need for information, our human love to read faces, and our human capacity for empathy.

We are hungry to know what they know, to see this great Death on the other side. The person who noted the girl peeking over the shoulders has it right -- that's where we want to be. She is, like the others, peering into the forbidden briefcase.

This is what power looks like. It's a secret board room, with laptops, a group of mostly white men on a conference call. A military man is calmly at the helm, and everyone else is watching, listening.

One guy, off to the left, hunched over and apart from the others, seems to be bearing an extra heavy load.
posted by swift at 10:37 AM on May 4, 2011 [33 favorites]


"Biden knows what's going on; he knows what's at stake, but he's also seen a lot in his life and it's hard for him to get excited. The photo captures why he's too smart to be a good politician."

Welcome to Metafilter, Joe!
posted by Feisty at 10:46 AM on May 4, 2011 [25 favorites]



Pretty much nobody had ever heard of Audrey Tomason before this photo, if Google and Wikipedia are any indication.

But she's kind of cute.

Googling Audrey Tomason brings up this picture.

posted by Rumple at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity, I opened the jpeg in Photoshop and looked at the embedded file info. The photo was apparently taken at 16:05. I'm not sure of the precise timeline of the raid, but does anyone know if that corresponds with the crucial 40 minutes of the raid?
posted by davebush at 10:52 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hey, spikelee...., is that John Madden in the right background in the reverse-angle photo?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:53 AM on May 4, 2011


"Biden knows what's going on; he knows what's at stake, but he's also seen a lot in his life and it's hard for him to get excited. The photo captures why he's too smart to be a good politician."

Welcome to Metafilter, Joe!


Oh, thank God. I knew there had to be some sort of rational explanation for that first statement.
posted by codswallop at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2011


Everybody seems to think Clinton looks shocked

My first thought was, "Stifling a burp."
posted by notmydesk at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2011


man, I really wish that was Peter Capaldi.



I want to be Malcolm Tucker when I grow up. Or at least learn to swear like him.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:23 AM on May 4, 2011


It's a roomful of liars, either by direct statements or by complicity.

Every single one of those people in the room knew that national security adviser John Brennan's 'briefing' to the press was full of lies -- that Osama bin Laden used a woman (his wife, even) as a human shield, that bin Laden was armed, etc.

Not one of them came forward to correct Brennan and the historical record.
posted by grounded at 11:24 AM on May 4, 2011


It's kind of interesting that everyone talks about Clinton, but no one mentions that she's the one actually in focus in the photo. He could have, and maybe did, take photos framed the same way with Obama in focus.
posted by snofoam at 11:24 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the best part is how subtle it is.

If you didn't know anybody in it but were told that one of them was the most powerful person on the planet, and were asked to point out which one, would you pick out the guy not sitting at the table and not positioned in an obvious seat of power, not looming large in the foreground, but rather sitting on his own in the corner in not-quite-formal, not-quite-casual clothes?

Of course we all know the answer, so I feel like we've been kind of spoiled, but I like to imagine someone who doesn't know, and they're looking around at all the people, and then they take a close look at that guy's face.
posted by bjrubble at 11:28 AM on May 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Not one of them came forward to correct Brennan and the historical record.

I just read a BBC piece that suggests they watched only the approach to the compound, with no live video once the team entered. It seems assumed that everyone watched the events inside the house, but I'm not so sure.
posted by davebush at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2011


the white house photo stream is totally worth it

The strangest thing about the White House photo stream, for me, is that I marked them as a contact when they first started it, and about 24 hours they made me a contact of theirs in return. Are they really looking at my photos? Why?
posted by anastasiav at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2011


Not one of them came forward to correct Brennan and the historical record.

Clearly that can't be true because the record has been corrected, and within about 24 hours.
posted by Jugwine at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Are they really looking at my photos? Why?

Depends: Do you take a lot of pictures of Hamas?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2011


Here's a shot of the room from the opposite angle.

Sorry to be pedantic but, just for the record, that's actually a different room. The Situation Room is, in fact, a small suite of rooms in the West Wing of the White House. The 'famous' photo is probably not in the main conference room of the Situation Room (shown in your reverse angle), but in a smaller briefing room two doors down.
posted by Dreadnought at 11:31 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I find so interesting about it is how casual it looks. The stickers still on the computers, the way the president just finds a seat wherever. It looks like people working. Like a million offices in this city.
posted by Brainy at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


1) I love the picture. There is just so much there. So much.

2) I just twisted my brain into a pretzel by revisiting this as if they were in that situation room on Sunday. Watch it (3:47) and imagine they are seeing what Obama and Clinton and the rest of those in the situation room were seeing.
posted by cashman at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2011


> It looks like people working. Like a million offices in this city.

One of the articles on the NYT said that a staffer went to Costco and got a bunch of turkey sandwiches, shrimp cocktails, and sodas for the whole crew while they hunkered down on Sunday.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does that General (or all Generals) always wear all those ribbons when hanging around in Washington?

Yeah, politics baby. Gotta show the bosses that you've been around.

Outside of DC, if a general or admiral is wearing a service class B or C uniform, from my experience, they tend to wear personal decorations only at not only does it save them money but it's also a FU to everyone else, as a person of that rank would be understood to have earned most of the lesser awards, but when wearing a service class A uniform, they'll tend to sport the whole salad unless it's their daily working uniform and they're the big man in the room. In the case of a dress A or dress B uniform, they'll wear all of their medals, ribbons and badges accordingly.

Either way, if they're a general officer, odds are not too many people are going to walk on up to them and point out that they're either missing an awarded decoration or something is out of place.

it only gets funny when they wear something they weren't awarded
posted by jsavimbi at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011


Clearly that can't be true because the record has been corrected, and within about 24 hours.

Not by the people in the photo. And John Brennan's presence there begs the question of why he disseminated those falsehoods in the first place.
posted by grounded at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011


Every single one of those people in the room knew that national security adviser John Brennan's 'briefing' to the press was full of lies -- that Osama bin Laden used a woman (his wife, even) as a human shield, that bin Laden was armed, etc.

Do you have any reason to think this? I don't think you do. Every one of your complaints assumes that the screen was playing live-helmet cam feed from the guy who burst into the room that happened to contain OBL. This is an OPERATIONS room - it doesn't make much sense to me that their feed would micro-managing every soldier like in the movie ALIENS, it seems far more likely to be keeping them in communication with the guys coordinating the operation, and giving the overview picture.

But let's assume you're right and instead of being sensible, they're all watching a video feed from the soldier happened to be the one that shot OBL. If you have much experience with helmet cams in low light conditions in hectic chaotic conditions, I don't think you'd be so sure you would know any better on any of the things above. I can see myself watching such a video feed, and not having any reason to think any of the statements made were false. I'd have to sit down with a computer, the footage, appropriate software, and a few hours to kill to figure that stuff out. That shit isn't the job of anyone in that room.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2011


"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Situation Room!"
posted by iotic at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a roomful of liars, either by direct statements or by complicity.

Look, I know the world is a big, scary place. But the sheer amount of conspiracy theorizing triggered by this episode is ridiculous. Let it go, son.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is an OPERATIONS room - it doesn't make much sense to me that their feed would micro-managing every soldier like in the movie ALIENS, it seems far more likely to be keeping them in communication with the guys coordinating the operation, and giving the overview picture.
Metafilter keep bringing in Aliens wherever you can, I love you for this.

posted by Brainy at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


they're all watching a video feed from the soldier happened to be the one that shot OBL.

They aren't (I know this was a supposition on your part as a thought exercise). They was a report that came out (among the tons that are swirling around) that says they did not witness that moment.
posted by cashman at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2011


I've heard (but can't cite) that they were listening to a play by play briefing. I was hoping it was helmet cams as well. It just seems more modern and high tech.
posted by Brainy at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2011


No conspiracy theories here. I'm tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Saddam's statue, Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, and so on. Just tell us what really happened.
posted by grounded at 11:50 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why you know there isn't a conspiracy: the truth is messy and facts contradict.

Biden: Nine meters. Seven. Six.
Clinton: That can't be, that's inside the room.

posted by shakespeherian at 11:52 AM on May 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


FWIW, the caption on Flickr says "President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room " and the first link in the FPP says "According to White House press secretary Jay Carney, they’re all watching CIA director Leon Panetta give a play-by-play of the raid".
posted by plastic_animals at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Biden: Nine meters. Seven. Six.
Clinton: That can't be, that's inside the room.


Tomason: Then they're right on top of us!?! (readies weapon)
posted by cashman at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2011


Clinton: Well, maybe you're not reading it right.
posted by Brainy at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree, great photograph, and one I'm sure we'll see in history books someday.

People talk about Hilary being the focus of the photo, with her being in the foreground and the "shocked" expression, but I like how it takes a second to "find" the President in the shot, and when you do, he's not so much "President ObamaTM" with his suit and flag pin and million dollar smile, so much as the President, in his plain shirt and jacket, like a guy getting work done. I can too easily picture him coming into the room without much fanfare like "Ok, bring me up to speed guys, how's this coming?" The calm but focused look, the simple statement of "We got him." when the operation was complete.

I think both his zealots and his enemies want Obama to be the Smiler, a rock star, a messiah, whatever. I got enough posturing from the last guy. I like seeing the president get shit done.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


What's in the burn bag? My guess is fries from Five Guys.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:34 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm really very sorry, everyone.
posted by cmoj at 1:15 PM on May 4 [+] [!]

Obama ‘Situation Room’ Photo Is Already Half Way To Becoming Flickr’s Most Viewed Pic.
posted by ericb at 12:34 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm really very sorry, everyone.
posted by cmoj at 1:15 PM on May 4 [+] [!]

posted by ericb at 12:38 PM on May 4, 2011


And John Brennan's presence there begs the question of why he disseminated those falsehoods in the first place. / Not one of them came forward to correct Brennan and the historical record.

Stop making up facts to support your world view. They were not watching the entire thing unfold in blu-ray video quality.

As I understand it [via a CNN interview with Denis McDonough] what they were watching and listening to were a lot of different audio feeds and text feeds during the raid as well as some video. [But he would not elaborate].
posted by Rashomon at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is an article on what they were witnessing.

> Obama was getting the same feed as the one being piped into an operations center at CIA headquarters, an aerial view of the compound.

> CIA Director Leon Panetta said the president and his team were not getting a direct video feed of the floor-by-floor raid as U.S. commandos searched for, found and killed bin Laden in his compound.

> Obama never saw the moment when bin Laden was shot dead.

> Military leaders were in the Pentagon, in the National Military Command Center, monitoring the operation. From there, Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, communicated with those in the Situation Room via videoconference as the operation progressed, providing updates and seeking decisions from the president when needed.

> Panetta said: "We did not have direct flow of information as to the conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound."
posted by Rashomon at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the best part is how subtle it is.

If you didn't know anybody in it but were told that one of them was the most powerful person on the planet, and were asked to point out which one, would you pick out the guy not sitting at the table and not positioned in an obvious seat of power, not looming large in the foreground, but rather sitting on his own in the corner in not-quite-formal, not-quite-casual clothes?


I agree, the photo is fascinating! I was at a lecture/discussion led by feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe last night, and a good portion of the evening was devoted to asking questions about this photo - who was sitting where why (are there assigned seats or does everyone just pile in?), how do they decide who gets invited, who is allowed to speak in meetings of this level and who is just supposed to listen, is it more acceptable for certain people to show emotion, how that particular photo was selected for release among the multiple shots that were doubtless taken, etc. There was also a mass scurrying to our laptops when she asked if anyone knew who the mystery woman is (she didn't know either, we tracked down Audrey Tomason's name but none of us had heard of her before - and this was a 98% female group of foreign affairs students). And then the conversation wandered on to topics ranging from OBL's death itself to women's role in the international relations field to children's toys, to all sorts of other things, but it was a good time and definitely made me think harder about the picture than "Ooh, this is so West Wing."
posted by naoko at 1:26 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Daily Mail weighs in.
posted by jgirl at 2:55 PM on May 4, 2011


Re: the caption: isn't it curious that they are all looking so intently at the screen, especially the people in the back who are bending their necks to see it, if all they are receiving is a verbal briefing?
posted by swift at 4:05 PM on May 4, 2011


When I saw that photo, I couldn't help but think of this scene in Patriot Games.
posted by Muddler at 4:42 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]



Burn Bag
posted by The Whelk


Tim Horton's bag
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints: "Here's a shot of the room from the opposite angle."

Holy shit! Obama is Batman!
posted by bwg at 6:33 PM on May 4, 2011


Part of the genius of the photo is that it they are stuck watching helplessly, just like we are. I think that's also part of the reason that many Americans are disgruntled by the lack of a straightforward story and documentary evidence - they think Obama was basically watching an action movie or playing a first-person shooter, since that's the only way they could imagine experiencing such a thing (that Playstation image spoke to this perfectly).

Of course, they aren't watching TV or playing a game; they're monitoring an extremely risky, chaotic, fast-moving situation over which they now have no control, and they probably couldn't even tell what the hell was going on most of the time. But the photo is especially powerful because it has taps into to this idea that there exists a single perfect account, available only to the elite and powerful, that we could just dial up on our TV sets if only they'd just let us see it - like if we could just get our hands on the right birth certificate or sheaf of leaked documents, something would click into place, and the suddenly the whole bewildering ordeal of the last 30 years would make perfect sense.
posted by dialetheia at 7:02 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Here's a shot of the room from the opposite angle.

spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints, as noted above by someone else, they are not in the main conference room. The whole Situation Room complex was revamped in 2006 and there are five so-called secure video rooms as well as a tiered communications center and a small office specifically for the President. (I wonder if they liked the underground center in Season 2 of 24.) Presumably the key photo was taken in one of the secure video rooms.

Re: Audrey F. Tomason, Tufts grad, Americorps/VISTA alumna, the Kennedy School and ... hmm. The record stops there. Obviously, she's an operative who's spent a lot of time in dicey hot zones and this is a constructed resume, right? Anyway, she's Director of Counterterrorism, which sounds all Jack Bauer-y, but is really just a WH liaison position. She probably gets to make a lot of phone calls where she says "The President wants {you to|to know} ..." It's not any sort of confirmed position. I really doubt, as the WaPo blog implies, that her job is "clandestine" in nature, as in her identity needs to be secret à la Valerie Plame.

I get a feeling she's there in a gofer capacity -- somebody they can spare to leave the gripping reports coming in to fetch an expert or send a message or question out. Nothing about her gender, just her position in the food chain.

Everybody seems to think Clinton looks shocked, but I do that same hand-over-the mouth thing all the time.

And such is the genius of photography -- capturing these fleeting moments.
posted by dhartung at 7:03 PM on May 4, 2011


Everybody seems to think Clinton looks shocked, but I do that same hand-over-the mouth thing all the time.

Take another look [hires]. Her cheeks are depressed on both sides. She isn't just putting her hand thoughtfully in front of her mouth, she's gripping it. I think that produces a slightly more gaunt affect that is detectable even at smaller resolutions. I think on reflection her expression is real, if you will, not produced in-camera. HRC has a long career in public life and is not given to closed expressions or body language.

Just occurred to me this was worthy of this level of attention.
I'll have my plate of beans to go.
posted by dhartung at 7:47 PM on May 4, 2011


I find the reaction to Tomason very interesting. I agree that she's short and in the back and is craning up, and that she sticks out because she's a woman there we don't know... along with a bunch of white-haired white guys we don't know (who seem to belong, because that's who we expect is running these things?). But it's interesting there's such a strong "who's the girl who randomly stumbled into this room" kind of gut feeling that comes out of that. Maybe it's just youth? Don't know. I've seen that reaction in a number of places talking about this photo though.

Also -
In the photo in the larger conference room, Panetta is there. So were these photos taken quite a while apart in time, and Panetta drove over to the CIA? Or was Panetta in the next room over, monitoring the feeds and reporting back to the group in the main "situation room" photo?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:57 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the larger-conference-room shot (taken at 2:03 Tripoli time, according to the wall clock, which means 8:03 Eastern. So if they're using 24 hr time, it would have been 8 pm in DC)... maybe this meeting is breaking up and Panetta is about to head out?

The later one is 16:05 Eastern time (presumably).
The guy who live-tweeted the raid did so around 1 AM Islamabad time, which would be 4 pm DC time, so 16:something would be about right for the crucial 40 minutes.

Here's NPR's timeline of the bin Laden raid.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:13 PM on May 4, 2011


Based on that timeline and the order of the pics in the photostream, I'm guessing the photo in the larger conference room was taken after the raid - NPR timeline has Obama receiving a briefing around 8:30 pm after the raid, after (reading between the lines in the timeline of identifying the body) the body had been taken to Afghanistan and examined, measured etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:22 PM on May 4, 2011


dhartung: Take another look [hires]. Her cheeks are depressed on both sides. She isn't just putting her hand thoughtfully in front of her mouth, she's gripping it.

I do this when I'm yawning and covering my mouth with my hand.
posted by Joh at 10:22 PM on May 4, 2011


The photo captures why he's too smart to be a good politician.

Well, Joe Biden is the Vice-President of the United States. I'd be totally okay with failing to be "good" on that scale.

Just sayin
posted by gompa at 11:04 PM on May 4, 2011


But it's interesting there's such a strong "who's the girl who randomly stumbled into this room" kind of gut feeling that comes out of that.

I think she and Biden's aide both stand out because their body language is so different. I think it's because they're both out of the loop in a sense (you can even see a bit of that in Biden himself) and there's less at stake for them. For almost everybody else, ramrod straight and grim, clenched jaw, there's a feeling of this may be the end of my Washington career.

Anyway, I think this is all open to a certain amount of interpretation.
posted by dhartung at 11:42 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dutch paper NRC claims the photo was taken "hours before" action against OBL: orginal in Dutch, Google translated version.
posted by mahershalal at 4:08 AM on May 5, 2011


Hillary Clinton's expression in the photo - Intense moments? Or Allergies?
"The photo shows Clinton with her hand to her mouth in what looks like a gesture of anxiety over the outcome of the operation.

"Those were 38 of the most intense minutes. I have no idea what any of us were looking at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken," she said on Thursday when asked about the photo during a visit to Rome.

"I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs. So it may have no great meaning whatsoever."
posted by cashman at 8:21 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


mahershalal, it now reads: Update 13:10: The investigation, which formed the basis for this report, we have relied on inaccurate data: we have assumed that the raid on the compound of Osama bin Laden took place shortly after half past eight (U.S. time). The twitter message from eyewitnesses that the action shortly after 15:30 pm U.S. time took place. This means that the picture was taken Souza is at the moment.

cashman: Hillary has let me down again!
posted by dhartung at 8:59 AM on May 5, 2011


dhartung: Ah ok.
posted by mahershalal at 9:07 AM on May 5, 2011


"I'm just adding to the pile"
posted by cashman at 7:26 AM on May 6, 2011


Of course, in the Israeli Hasidic paper Der Tzitung, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does not even exist, nor does Audrey Tomasen. They edited the women right out. What a strange parallel universe, right here on planet Earth.
posted by Corvid at 2:08 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"That's why bin Laden had no chance to escape"
posted by cashman at 6:40 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


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