If President Obama wasn’t suffering enough PR damage lately, a seemingly thoughtless gesture during the memorial service for anti-apartheid crusader and former South African President Nelson Mandela sealed the deal.
Acting as though they were at a party instead of a memorial service, Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt took a break from the eulogies to snap what is known in today’s tech parlance as a “selfie”. Unfortunately for them, someone else was snapping their photo at the same time – and the photo immediately went viral.
Everything about the photo induces a wince, from the trio crowding their heads together like goofy teenagers to a possibly furious Michelle Obama appearing to ignore them. Sadly, the selfie seen ’round the world became more newsworthy than Obama’s own moving and powerful speech about Mandela’s life.
Is there a silver lining here? Possibly. The faux pas also overshadowed Obama’s other gaffe that day, an “unplanned” handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro that forced the White House to reiterate the president’s “grave concerns” about human rights violations in the Caribbean nation.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for President Obama.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Public figures are always on display, never more than when the chips are down. In late November, a poll suggested a majority of Americans don’t think Obama trustworthy as his advisers sought to divert attention from the PR debacle associated with the rollout of Obamacare. Using his exceptional oratorical skills at Mandela’s memorial service might have been a way to remove some of the tarnish. Unfortunately, forgetting that he must always be presidential cost him that opportunity.