Photojournalist Grace Sees End to Coziness Between US Leaders and Press

Saturday, 24 Nov 2012 07:14 PM

By Bill Hoffmann and Kathleen Walter

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Today’s presidential candidates are so worried about their public image that they’ve virtually severed all behind-the-scenes access with the journalists who cover them, a veteran photojournalist says.

It’s a dramatic about-face from the coziness the press corps used to enjoy with the nation’s leaders and would-be leaders, award-winning snapper Arthur Grace told Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview.

Story continues below video.

“They want to control their image just like a celebrity, a movie star, anybody else. They don’t want to flub. They don’t want to say something that’s going to get them in trouble,’’ said Grace, who is out with a new book “America 101.’’

“And the less you say and the more you control, the better off you are.’’

Grace, whose tome collects 101 photos close to his heart, has taken pictures of presidents and presidential hopefuls for five decades during his work with such top media organizations as The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and Sygma.

But over the years, unguarded access to them has dried up as their political doctors take more control.

“The types of politics we have now are distant politics. With that, I mean, everything is a photo-op,’’ Grace said.

“There is always a distance between the candidate and the crowd. You may go into the crowd briefly and shake hands, but everything is a set-up now.’’

When Grace did a book of campaign photos called “Choose Me’’ for Newsweek in 1988, “I had total access to the candidates and I was able to go out with all of them.

“Behind the scenes, they are fatigued, their happiness, their irritation, all the things you don’t get to see. When they come up on the podium, behind the curtain and come up on the podium, they’ve got their game face on, so to speak.

“And everything’s arranged from the lighting to the background . . . They do their canned speech. They shake a few hands. And they move on. So they’re just kind of images on a television set.’’

In “America 101,’’ Grace has several photos of George W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention.

“And there are these giant screens with him speaking on it and . . . if you look below the screens, there’s a tiny George Bush on a podium. And that is basically where we’ve come. From mixing with the crowd, from being accessible and available, to all of a sudden everything’s electronic and this average-sized man because a Jumbotron image.

“Access to the candidates is severely limited, severely limited.’’

In the most recent election, both politicians were cloistered as much as possible, according to Grace.

“Romney, at the end of the campaign, did not, as far as I remember or recall, didn’t take questions from the press in the last three weeks, and neither did Obama for that matter,’’ he said.

“This really was unheard of 20, 30 years ago. Press availability and accessibility was fantastic . . . Every succeeding election, you’ve been . . . cut off from really getting to know those candidates.’’

In preparing his new book, Grace said he wanted to capture America’s “diversity of character.

“We possess as Americans certain characteristics that are unique to us . . . We are an extremely patriotic country and the flag means so much to Americans. We also believe in competition. We are Number One.’’

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