Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MEGHAN McCAIN writes a slightly puzzling piece regarding the controversy surrounding the pics of Zapatero's daughters. She's fascinated by the fact that the prime minister was able to persuade some of the newspapers not to publish them ("nice little paper you got 'ere; what a shame if something happened to it"), and also because in Spain there's a law that protects kids' public image. And it's true, there is a 1996 law (Spanish link) that allows parents -- not just prime ministers or politicians, but all parents -- to block the public display of their children's images. And it's clear that Zapatero and his wife have always been against their daughters being in the media.

Until now.

Because what Meghan doesn't seem to know, or understand, is that this was not a picture stolen by a paparazzi while the kids were with their buddies at a mall, or having fun at the beach, like it happened five years ago. The kids were a part of an official delegation in an official trip to NY, paid by public money, whose costs were paid by taxpayers. Because they were a part of an official delegation they got things like, i.e., an accreditation to the UN General Assembly session to see his dad speak. They were promimently at one of the few coveted seats that every country's delegation to the UN has for guests.

During that session there were some pictures of them taken by the government-owned press agency EFE, which were promptly withdrawn at Zapatero's office request before its distribution to syndication clients. Maybe you think it's not such a big deal and Zapatero could have acted like Sarkozy, but it's his prerogative since the kids weren't supposed to be on the spotlight there.

But what happened at the Metropolitan Musem is another matter. Because if you don't want your daughters to be in pictures,  is it wise to put them in front of a bunch of official photographers in an official event posing with the most photographed man in the world and then expect that the picture won't be released? If not Zapatero, his tens of advisors should have told him that the White House photographs end up in it's own website and/or Flickr, as it eventually happened, where it was snatched by some Spanish media before it was withdrawn, again, at Zapatero's request.

And then all hell broke loose. In a matter of hours, tens of photoshopped versions and even YouTube videos (some quite funny, you got to admit, but I'm not going to link them here) appeared online and in everyone's email inbox. People seemed to take special pleasure at disseminating the picture, sometimes with quite nasty comments attached. Why? There are several reasons, often in combination:

First, Zapatero's strictness at the law shielding kids from publicly appearing in pictures has backfired a little: it's not such a big deal if the chief of the executive power's children appear in a picture now and then (ask Sasha and Malia). The law is meant to protect kids from abuse, but one wouldn't say that being shown together with Obama is abuse, but rather something to be proud of.

Second, well, at the risk of sounding un-PC, the way they dressed didn't exactly help. Yeah, I know everyone should be free to dress the way they like, bla bla bla. But just as you don't go to a wedding in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals, going to a fancy gathering with world leaders requires a sufficiently elegant attire. And if they're minors, their parents should be able to persuade them to dress appropriately. It doesn't bode well for someone who is supposed to lead a country that he's not even able to lead at home. In any case, I'd wager one of my bespoke suits that had the kids looked more 'normal' there would have been such a big reaction.

Third, because people were "taking revenge" for the picture at the UN that was suppressed, and for the fact that the trip was paid by public money. I'm not sure if that's a good reason to make fun of the girls, but it's undeniable that this took a part.

And finally, and perhaps more importantly, because people noticed the hypocrisy involved. The same week that the Zapatero's government introduced legislation that allows minors to get an abortion without parental permission, Zapatero says that a law shielding minors from pictures should be respected, being the key factor whether they're or not minors. You can't say that kids are too young for pictures and at the same time old enough for an abortion without mom and dad having anything to say. If the parents' wishes regarding their children appearing in pictures should be universally respected, why shouldn't they be when they oppose their kids' decision about having a baby or terminating an abortion?

Again, I'm not sure these are reasons for making fun of the kids -- and that's exactly what happened -- but what I do know is that the situation is more complicated than Meghan McCain makes it sound.