US president Donald Trump sat down for an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office on Wednesday (Jan 17). While the interview ended with takeaways of Trump’s plan ahead for this year’s midterm elections and tensions with North Korea, a truly remarkable exclusive was this photo of Trump and his communication staff engaged in tense tableau while Reuters journalists looked on. For those who have read the various stories depicting a White House coming apart at the seams, with a diminishing team of advisors, here is an intimate image that seems to illustrate that chaos.
We see Trump, sitting at the Resolute desk, a stern look on his face, finger pointed squarely at his communications director Hope Hicks. Hicks appears to be grabbing a notepad from the desk, and appears apologetic. On the right, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands mouth agape, watching Trump and Hick’s interaction.
The photo’s comic composition is remarkable, with the three figures aligned horizontally as if onstage. One of the Trump administration’s greatest accomplishments in the past year might be its staff members’ past and present efforts to project a stable disposition, even as deeply sourced reporting from inside the White House says otherwise. But here, is the president berating his staff in front of press, while Sanders—the one responsible for explaining his behavior—reacts in dismay? Or is it just a fleeting moment in an undramatic encounter?
Ironically, Sanders and Hicks have been some of the more stable presences in the White House. Hicks joined the Trump campaign very early and has outlasted seasoned political operatives with decades of seniority. Sanders also joined the administration after working on the Trump campaign, and while her time as press secretary has been marked with clashes with the press, it has provided fewer of the bumbling antics that defined predecessor Sean Spicer’s tenure.
Either way, just days away from the one-year anniversary of this improvisational administration, and in light of the excruciating details of dysfunction revealed in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, the photo is well-timed.