Media Training: Corn Dogs And Bad Photo Ops

Ever since the Iowa State Fair earlier this month, we’ve been assaulted by graphic photos showing presidential candidates eating food on a stick.

Yes, that once-every-four-years ritual of politicians eating fried butter on a stick and fried Twinkies on a stick has come around again, and with it comes the inevitable photos of politicians sticking a giant Phallus into their mouths.

Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry. Photo Credit:

Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann. Photo Credit: Toby Harnden, The Telegraph

I recognize that this article may seem like a cheap excuse to run sordid photos. But there’s a serious point here: If politicians give the media excuses to run unflattering photos, they will.

It’s a tough decision for these politicians. On one hand, they don’t want to star in these shots. But on the other hand, the “food on a stick” culture is an integral part of state fairs. If they reject these silly food offerings, will the locals take it out on them at the voting booth?

Even if the answer is yes, I would do everything possible to avoid these shots – pass food off to an aide, have an aide “accidentally” stand in front of the cameras, or simply avoid those booths altogether.

Those photos, as embarrassing as they may be, aren’t likely to seriously hurt a candidate – but campaigns have been similarly sloppy at managing photo ops in past years.

In 2004, John Kerry learned a tough lesson when he allowed this photo to be snapped during his tour of NASA, which led to weeks of ridicule.

More infamously, there was this picture of 1988’s eventual Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis. The photo of Mr. Dukakis wearing an over-sized helmet in a tank may look innocuous now – but at the time, it reinforced the narrative that he was too weak to lead. He got walloped by George H.W. Bush that November.

I regularly see PR pros, politicians, and executives focusing intensively on their talking points and speeches, but never giving a moment’s thought to the visuals. They should. A bad photo can be all it takes to undermine their message – or destroy their career.

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