Selfie Ethics: Yes, Big Papi Exploited The President


I wrote about this ethical breach when Ellen DeGeneris did it at the Oscars. The short version is this:

“It’s unethical to pretend that a selfie is a spontaneous  gesture of fun and friendship when you have a commercial agreement in place to use the photograph in a way that promotes the cell phone manufacturer.”

This is exploitation for commercial gain, and it’s wrong. It’s wrong when the victims are movie stars, and it’s wrong when the exploited party is President of the United States.

In fact, it’s worse when POTUS is the mark. What Red Sox slugger David Ortiz did when he talked Obama into taking a White House selfie with Big Papi constituted trust-breaking conduct as an invited guest (the Sox were being honored for their 2013 World Series victory). It was dishonest, because Obama never suspected that Ortiz had made a deal with Samsung to promote their phones by taking such a photo, and it was disrespectful. The stunt reduced the President to a product endorsement shill. Yes, I know that’s how this particular President has been behaving for quite a while now. However, it’s his choice whether to degrade his image and his office, not that of David Ortiz or Samsung.

I love to have Big Papi up at the plate for my Red Sox with the bases juiced and the game on the line, but my respect for his character has been badly hit by this pitch. He has even denied that the photo was part of a deal with Samsung, at this point a claim that qualifies for a Jumbo. Before the planned Red Sox visit,  Ortiz signed  an endorsement deal with Samsung to be its “MLB social media insider.” The relationship was revealed a day before the Red Sox White House visit. A post  on the SportsBusiness Journal’s website announced that Ortiz “will be tweeting and sending photos on Samsung’s behalf” at the White House. Nobody, however, told the President. Shortly after Ortiz’s tweeted selfie with Obama went viral, Samsung announced that Ortiz had taken took the presidential selfie with its new smartphone.

Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, was properly jovial about the incident on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” but also made it clear that President Obama didn’t know anything about the Samsung connection, and that it was obviously not appropriate “to use the president’s likeness to promote a product” without his permission.  It is likely that the Red Sox designated hitter has taken the last selfie with President Obama in the frame, at least with a Samsung phone.

No, he didn’t get drunk and throw up on Bo, but Ortiz did…

  • Degrade the President, his office and the People’s House and to make a cheap buck that he hardly needs,
  • Tricked and misled the President of the United States while doing the bidding of an electronics company,
  • Spoiled White House selfies for all future guests and
  • Tried to weasel out of it with a lie.

It all adds up to an ignominious strike-out for him, his team, and respect for the Presidency. Tonight, Ortiz  got robbed by Ichiro Suzuki, who made a leaping catch at the Yankee Stadium right field fence to rob him of at least a double.


In related news, it seems clear that selfie misconduct—all selfies are narcissistic exercises in self-obsession, if you ask me—as well as involuntary celebrity endorsements via Twitter are becoming epidemic. For example, a drug store chain is being sued by “Knocked Up” actress Katherine Heigl for posting a paparazzi picture of her on the street carrying one of its shopping bags, and tweeting,

Love a quick #DuaneReade run? Even @KatieHeigl can’t resist shopping #NYC’s favorite drugstore

I don’t know how the lawsuit will turn out, but what Duane Reade did is unethical beyond question: using Heigl’s name and likeness to promote their stores without her permission? Why, it would be like using President Obama to promote Samsung! Then there’s this…

broken statue

…which apparently resulted when an idiotic “foreign student” climbed on the lap of a statue on exhibit in a Milan museum to take a selfie. One of the comments on the Daily Mail story about the incident says, “I bet it was an American.”

Or David Ortiz?


11 thoughts on “Selfie Ethics: Yes, Big Papi Exploited The President

  1. This sort of nonstop shilling has unfortunately intruded in every forum for public discourse I can think of.

    ***Sent from my***

  2. Well it’s major league baseball, what do you expect! Somehow I don’t get too upset when Obama is played the fool. As far as the office of the Presidency, yes Ortiz was unethical and sleazy.

  3. Somehow, I’m more upset over that Italian sculpture than I am the sensibilities of Obummer or an actress renown even among her own kind as an arrogant prima donna. If the vandal (who, I notice, also graffitied the statue) was an American, he was probably of the same sort that votes in Italy’s scandal ridden governments, so they can get off their high horse on that one, too!

  4. I think this violation is made all the worse because it preyed upon the blatant narcissism of the President – this man has never, to my knowledge, passed up an offer to have his picture taken.

    Anyone could have gotten Obama to take part in this picture, it just happens that Ortiz was guaranteed to be close enough to ask. If you gave me an S5 on the promise that I post a selfie of me and the President, my only hurdle would be getting to an event or moment where Obama was among the public – after that was achieved, success would be certain.

  5. As for the drugstore being sued, I’m not sure I agree. Assuming they didn’t steal the picture (yes they are loathsome creatures, but the paps gotta eat, man), I don’t really see anything wrong with using the image. I mean, would you support the lawsuit if instead it was against a tabloid for running the picture on the front page (or being the subject for a TMZ email alert)?

    I suspect that you wouldn’t, and so just because this is a twitter ad by the store shouldn’t make it any worse.

    We will, for this discussion, not touch on the ethics of paparazzi in general.

    • It is often the case that the logo is blurred out, or cropped out, before being placed in such a magazine. Else, the magazine opens itself to a potential lawsuit from the company holding the logo’s trademark (why would such a company want to be associated with a filthy tabloid, afterall).

    • Tabloids gain their protection from existing on the ethical fringes of Journalism, in the sort of area Jack discusses in the “Ethics Incompleteness Theorem”. Under the extremely loose theory that they are members of the Press, they can do such. We know they aren’t really journalists / reporters / the press, BUT, just like one can’t really discriminate between the legitimately needy and the crafty game-playing freeloaders, any time there is a group of identifiable people engaging in legitimate behavior, there is an associated group of people operating on its fringes.

      I believe that difference is why a store proprietor cannot appropriate someone’s image for advertising, whereas, short of libel, a tabloid can appropriate it for ‘reporting’.

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