In our campaign experience, there are few things more important to advance work than framing the shot. In other words, making sure the media that has come to your event gets the exact shot that you want shown on the evening news. So, we were particularly amused when we came upon this tidbit.
Two Muslim women at Barack Obama’s rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate. The campaign has apologized to the women, both Obama supporters who said they felt betrayed by their treatment at the rally.
“This is of course not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama’s commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. “We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers.”
Now, how exactly can something like this happen? Well first off, you need to understand who exactly it is that is in charge of managing backdrops for campaign rallies like this one. More often than not, advance personnel are the most experienced of campaign volunteers and managed by employees of the campaign whose sole responsibility is advance for campaign events. That means one thing….these people should know better. If you’re looking for a better shot, you can move and adjust people…but kicking them out? No. Sorry. You only boot someone if they smell like rotten cheese or are dressed like the unabomber.
Building a human backdrop to a political candidate, a set of faces to appear on television and in photographs, is always a delicate exercise in demographics and political correctness. Advance staffers typically pick supporters out of a crowd to reflect the candidate’s message.
In this particular case, the type of event means you’re not worried placing VIPs in the shot, though some certainly will want to be visible. Instead, you simply are directing the crowd to the available seats, passing out signs to shake and flags to wave. Why do I mention this? Because it highlights the particular effort Obama’s staff went to filter out those with Muslim headdress. Does this mean it’s official campaign policy? Of course not. Instead, it’s likely the fruit of discussions among advance staff about how best to frame the shot.
But at the end of the day, these people are key members of the campaign and influenced by the culture throughout it. Clearly, that culture has enabled the campaign staff to feel obligated to take such ridiculous actions on their own accord.
Finally, what outrage would we hear from the media if this were done at a McCain rally?