WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama is once again in trouble, and this time for a group picture he took of himself with the British and Danish leaders at Nelson Mandela’s funeral on Tuesday.
An AFP photographer, Roberto Schmidt, took a picture of the three world leaders as they posed for the selfie, a digital term for self-portrait.
The picture shows Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt of Denmark holding up her smartphone, with President Obama lending a helping hand, as they pose for a picture with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
All three of them smile broadly for their selfie while other world leaders pay tribute to Mr Mandela at Soweto’s World Cup stadium. First Lady Michelle Obama, sitting to the left of her husband, does not join in and keeps her eyes focused on the podium.
The picture went viral on social media sites and received millions of hits, and criticism. The mainstream media too put the picture on their websites, some with their comments.
“All of it serves as a reminder — as if we needed one — that even the best-laid plans of politicians tend to veer wildly off course in this age of social media,” commented The Washington Post.
“Moments are everything now, all captured for posterity by thousands of camera clicks and keyboard taps that can go viral as quickly as it took Obama to read the opening few lines of his speech.”
“This is an era when one honest image can ignite viral misinterpretation,” noted The New York Times. “The reactions included criticism that the leaders were being disrespectful and attempts to decipher the meaning behind Michelle Obama’s expression.”
The picture “sparked a surging debate: Was the selfie a cute moment, or a tasteless act?” noted CNN, which also used a tweet, pointing out that the British media was “making hay with Obama selfie & the First Lady’s face.
Daily Mail calls PM Helle Thorning-Schmitt the flirty Dane.”
“No selfie respect,” said a full, front-page headline in the British tabloid, The Sun.“Have you heard of the term funeral selfie? … It’s mostly teens — kids too self-absorbed to understand the magnitude of death. Well, President Obama can be added to the list of those who’ve snapped a photo of himself at a funeral,” commented the right-wing Fox News.
“Mr Mandela was a man who forgave others for some of the cruellest acts against mankind. Surely he would forgive this too. Maybe he would even say there’s nothing to forgive. It’s just a picture after all,” it added.
“Can you believe it, Obama taking selfies at the Nelson Mandela memorial?” said conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
“Is This The Most Important Selfie Of 2013?” headlined the US-based social news website Buzzfeed, noting that Michelle Obama seemed “not amused” by the impromptu photo shoot.
“Did the President really take a selfie at a funeral? It appears the First Lady did not approve,” tweeted Republican Party strategist Erick Erickson. Mr Obama is a Democrat.
The photographer who took the viral picture, however, rejected the criticism and said Michelle Obama’s expression had also been misinterpreted.
“In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance,” he wrote on his blog.
Photographer Schmidt also pointed out that this was a memorial service, not a funeral: “All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed — I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not.”