An Obama administration spokesman said it was only in jest that a top aide said President Barack Obama would stop doing “selfies,” although Samsung Electronics Co.’s use of one for a phone promotion improperly exploited the presidency for commercial gain.
The controversy sprang from an April 1 appearance by the Boston Red Sox at the White House. As the event wrapped up, slugger David Ortiz asked Obama to pose with him for a snapshot, then Tweeted it. Samsung’s U.S. unit, which has an endorsement deal with Ortiz, reposted it to its 5.26 million followers, along with the fact that a Samsung phone captured what looked like a spontaneous moment with the president.
Obama “obviously didn’t know anything about Samsung’s connection to this,” White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Maybe this will be the end of all selfies.”
The White House tries to prevent use of the president’s image to promote a product and the administration’s lawyers have “expressed our concerns” to Samsung, Pfeiffer said. He declined to say whether any further action would be taken.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today that Pfeiffer’s remark shouldn’t be taken as a warning that all selfies with the president would be prohibited in the future.
“There’s no discussion of a ban,” Carney told reporters at the White House today. “He was saying, I think humorously, the end of all selfies, and I don’t think he just meant the White House.”
Samsung didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Ortiz told the Boston Globe last week that his photo with the president was spontaneous and not tied to his marketing deal.
The Ortiz episode illustrates how Obama’s embrace of popular culture, celebrities and social media to promote his agenda can leave him vulnerable to criticism and to being used for other people’s purposes.
It was the second time in recent months that a selfie has caused a headache for the White House.
Last December, Obama was criticized for helping Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt take a photograph of herself with him and British Prime Minister David Cameron in the midst of a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Obama’s presidential campaigns made unprecedented use of social media to turn out supporters. While in office he and his aides have used multiple online forums, including Reddit, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, along with traditional media to reach the public. He also has enlisted celebrities to push insurance enrollment under his health-care law.
Samsung has moved deftly to own the selfie space. The Ortiz picture is the second time in about a month that the company has attracted global headlines for self-portraits taken with its smartphones. In March, Oscars ceremony host Ellen DeGeneres took a picture with actors including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, a snap that set a record for the most retweeted post ever -- with more than 3 million retweets -- and disrupted Twitter’s service for some users.
The South Korean company was a sponsor of the Oscars and used the show to introduce its “One Samsung” marketing campaign.