Reading the Situation Room Photo with Emerging Company Eyes

Blogging Tuesday about the already famous White House photo of the Situation Room during the bin Laden operation, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic writes:

"[T]he President seems so small and peripheral to the action. He is hunched down, seated on the margins of the meeting, seemingly trying not to take up space. It appears as if he couldn't even find a place to put his jacket."

5680724572_ab0f11237a_oI agree with the conclusion Goldberg eventually draws -- that Obama is confident and in control -- but I approach and read the surface of the photo very differently.

For me, the visual vocabulary of the photo is that of a conference room for an emerging tech company. In that environment, it's easy to spot Obama as the CEO.

Now, this is not your hip Pioneer Square or downtown San Francisco social media startup. The walls and the furniture bespeak suburban office park. "Class A" space, admittedly, though still the kind of digs that won't sport a board room with high ceilings or old world affectations.

The President's natural chair, to be sure, is at the head of the table. But the narrative logic of the picture suggests the President, like any smart, practical CEO, has pulled in a more technical person to run the demo, or the video conference, or whatever it is that's cutting edge and refuses to work for normal mortals. In the meantime, he's parked himself temporarily in the next nearest chair.

The tech guy in the President's story is a brigadier general, which would mean he's pulled the CTO (about the right military-to-tech-co correlation) to drive the demo.

5680161629_5e4803630f_oAs for not removing his jacket: for Goldberg, this signals self-effacement; to me, it means he's coming or going or reserving his options to do either. (We can cheat, too, and look at another White House photo in the stream which suggests both that (a) the President at another point claims his chair, and (b) he decides to take off his jacket and settle in.)

When the President visited Facebook last month, I remarked that he carried himself like a natural tech company CEO. Well, here's more evidence. That's what he's going to do, post-presidency. You heard it here first.


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