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Anatomy of a Hillary Clinton photo op -- the pictures and the reality

May 1, 2008 |  2:02 am

It's a silly, stale staple of virtually every day of every campaign everywhere, a lame, awkward, almost always successful attempt to stage a political event for the benefit mainly of photographers and TV camera operators -- and, of course, the candidate who hopes to get free publicity underlining the theme of his or her campaNew York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a staged photo op in Indiana to talk about the price of gas and get free media publicityign day.

The photo op.

Sen. Hillary Clinton had another one Wednesday. They're usually staged before 1 or 2 p.m. to give crews time to edit the film and prepare their stories for the dinnertime news.

What TV viewers eventually saw was Clinton at a South Bend, Ind., gas pump with high prices. (See how she's perfectly positioned so you can also see the prices? No accident. Although, truth be told, $3.75 a gallon looks pretty good to many Californians).

Clinton had along as a human prop commuter Jason Wilfing, allegedly on his way to work at a sheet metal factory. A real normal guy, no doubt, recruited by a Clinton advance worker for 12 of his 15 minutes of fame.

Wilfing filled up the gas tank and the meter whirled and she talked about her proposed gas tax holiday for Americans this coming summer, which her opponent Sen. Barack Obama has called a "gimmick" that would cost billions and save the average family a whopping $28. (See video after the jump.)

But the Clinton campaign believes this stop is another good opportunity....

for Mrs. Clinton, who reported $109 million in joint income with her husband the last few years, to drive home her really genuine interest in the economic concerns of regular folks. Kitchen table issues, which is the latest thing for candidates to appear sincere about.

Also the ridiculous price of energy and the evil OPEC oil cartel and while she was at it how the Bush administration "bails out" big investment houses but lets the average American family wilt under the pressure of high gas prices. And how it's necessary to "sound the alarm" about these conditions.

Anyone here need an alarm to become aware of high gas prices? And how many years do you think it's been since former first lady and Sen. Clinton, who lives every second in a Secret Service cocoon, has hopped out at the self-service pump or checked her own oil?

And, by the way, how much was the burdensome gas bill in the end? $63.67! Awful! Just terrible. Thank goodness this candidate is on the case for the little guy in Hoosierland, which -- what a coincidence! -- has a close Democratic primary next Tuesday.

All the candidates play these charade games. Sen. John McCain on his biographical tour and his "hardly-anybody-ever-goes-to-these-places" tour that produces plenty of TV footage but changes nothing. Sometimes these photo ops can bite the candidate's behind like Obama's widely reported, wildly unsuccessful attempts at bowling in Pennsylvania that actually added to his elite image.

Fire the campaign guy whose idea that stop was.

Now, here's the reality of Wednesday's Clinton photo op. It wasn't really Wilfing's vehicle, which the Secret Service had vetoed as unsuitable for Clinton, according to MSNBC's Ron Allen. While Clinton rode up front, crammed in the back were security agents. And trailing behind were no less than eight Secret Service SUVs. A regular parade to pretend to be on a normal commute and gas up enroute.

When they just happened to pull into one Marathon gas station, a mob of media just happened to be gathered there all properly positioned to get shots of the pump where Wilfing would stop. And he stopped there. And the cameras rolled.

Later, Clinton went into work with Wilfing and folks got some shots of her talking with workers assembled by their foreman on the factory floor. And she told them how the country must muster the political will to confront the oil companies that produced the oil and refined it into the gasoline that she was a few minutes before just so eager to be photographed helping to purchase.

The Clinton campaign, by the way, paid Wilfing's $63.67 gas bill. So that leaves 34 cents left over from some supporter's $64 campaign donation after Clinton's Pennsylvania victory.

You know, someday somebody should write about these games that the media and politicans play together for their own mutual interests.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo: Hillary Clinton in South Bend, Ind. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)