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Videoing the President

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, November 12 2010

Arun Chaudhary has been following Barack Obama since he ran for president all the way to the White House, and that's "following" rather literally. Chaudhary was the on-staff videographer for the 2008 Obama campaign, and he's not installed in the White House in a similar position, making videos of what's happening with the Obama presidency. You might have seen his work in "West Wing Week." The New York Times Ashley Parker has today a rather nice profile of Chaudhary, and the meaning of his work. Here's a taste of her piece:

Even though Mr. Chaudhary got his start shooting video for the campaign, he said he sees his job as documenting this administration for history.

“When people in 20 years see the work that I do, I hope they’ll have a greater understanding of what the president is like personally and what the presidency is like as an institution,” Mr. Chaudhary said. “I’m hoping these moments I’ve saved and put out will even have a richer and more historical flavor.”

For instance, the video he shot of Mr. Obama and Elena Kagan, making bad jokes right before he officially nominated her to the Supreme Court? “What if that had been L.B.J. and Thurgood Marshall?” Mr. Chaudhary said. “In 20 years, that will be amazing.”

Every video that comes out must first be approved by the press office, and while the White House says it is not trying to supplant the news media, the line can get blurry, especially when news shows use what are essentially video news releases. The video of the call between Mr. Obama and the cancer survivor found its way onto “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC and a segment of ABC’s “World News With Diane Sawyer.”

Of course, rather obviously, when a White House is pushing out footage of what happens in the life of the American President and the women and men who serve him, it can start to blur the line between documentation and propaganda. (And, I should awkwardly note, I'm in the piece briefly discussing such things.) One interesting detail that pops out of Parker's piece is that to comply with the Presidential Records Act, "every piece of video the White House shoots, even the outtakes, is saved on huge storage servers, and will eventually become part of the official record in the presidential library." Chaudhary, writes Parker, travels with Obama on about two-thirds of his trips, and it's rather delicious to think of what an archive like that will mean to historians and researchers of the future.

Fittingly, there's also a video campanion to Parker's piece:

Bonus: A look back at some of Chaudhary's greatest hits from the campaign.

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