Media's Obsession With Obama's Selfie Is “Sad,” Says Photographer Who Captured The Photo

Selfie Photographer Speaks Out

The photographer who captured Obama's selfie with the Danish Prime Minister criticized the media frenzy surrounding the picture as 'unfortunate' and “sad” during an interview on NPR, citing a Media Matters report that found the majority of cable coverage of Nelson Mandela's memorial focused on the selfie and Obama's handshake with the Cuban president rather than Mandela himself.

When President Obama and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a "selfie" together during the December 10 memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the photograph quickly became one of the biggest media stories of the week, eclipsing even Mandela.

According to a Media Matters report, a majority of cable news coverage of Mandela's memorial service focused on Obama's selfie and his handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro rather than on the service itself or Mandela's legacy.

Roberto Schmidt, the Agence France-Presse photographer who captured the selfie, criticized the obsessive coverage of the picture as unfortunate during an interview on the December 16 edition of NPR's On The Media. According to Schmidt, the photograph gave “refreshing” insight into the “human-side” of “dignitaries” and was not “shamefully disrespectful,” but the media has “blown it out of proportion.” He added:

SCHMIDT: [W]e put out close to 500 images that day and some of the images are very, very interesting, nice, strong images, showing the celebration for Nelson Mandela. And unfortunately, you know, the picture that got the most front-pages in dailies and websites around the world was the selfie.

Host Brooke Gladstone asked Schmidt about Media Matters' report about media coverage and the media storm surrounding his photo, and he decried it as “just sad,” wondering what it “say[s] about our society”  [emphasis added]:

GLADSTONE: There was a report from Media Matters this week that said a majority of Mandela's memorial coverage on the cable news channels focused on the Castro handshake and on the selfie rather than on the memorial itself or on Mandela's legacy. Did you ever imagine when you snapped that photo that it would become such a big deal?

SCHMIDT: No. Never, never, never, never. I knew I had an interesting moment just because we usually don't see heads of state in a very human light, everything is very staged. And I knew it was a picture worth putting on the wire and that it would get some play but I never thought it would grow into this buzz.

GLADSTONE: What was your reaction to the media spectacle around this seemingly innocuous snapshot?

SCHMIDT: I really think it's just sad. I mean, what does that say about our society? Are those the things that we focus on? Sometimes we just get carried away by noise that people make and it just proves it's more and more noise.

GLADSTONE: I guess we should be glad that there are so many little dust-ups that they fade out of memory almost as quickly as they make their splash.

SCHMIDT: Absolutely, well, look at, this is a good example. The selfie, OK, made a big splash but now today the big talk is about the translator for the sign language. What are we going to talk about tomorrow?