You would think that politicians would be wise to the fact that the whole world is just waiting for them to slip up. Yet not a day goes by without some right-wing homophobe being caught in a public bathroom with an exquisite rent boy or a left-wing loon accepting a big bag of cash labelled “SWAG.” Perhaps being constantly in the public eye makes them forget the camera lenses pointed perpetually at them.
Whatever the reason, politicians getting caught in strange positions are the grease that keeps the internet turning. Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are always eager to spread the good news about a politician in a bad photo. The time was that a single photo could bring a career to an end. Now with Donald “Shameless” Trump on the way to the White House it seems that a terrible photograph could be just another tool in the politician’s publicity kit.
This list will look at 15 of the most outrageous photos ever taken of politicians. They range from the tamest gaffes to the wildest pieces of anatomical examination. Some have ended a career, others have just confirmed the public image of the person caught out. The political animal is found in all countries and this list takes in people from across the globe.
15 Ed Miliband's Bacon Battle
Ed Miliband was leader of the UK opposition Labour party. Going up against a fairly unpopular government in an election he seemed to be set to take over. The only problem with him can be summed up in this image. He had a bit of a nerdy image and being captured mid-chew of a sandwich did nothing to dispel it.
The photograph soon went viral. The bacon sandwich scandal even has its own Wikipedia page. The initial publication of the image described Miliband’s “battle to consume the greasy treat.” While his media team attempted to stop photographers getting too close, hoping to avoid a sticky mess, they did manage to snap this pic.
The publication of the image led to a debate about just how much we should care about a politician’s public image. Miliband tried to brush it off but the photo became part of the zeitgeist. In the following election Miliband lost badly, leaving him much needed to practice eating other tricky dishes. Sandwiches are not for everyone.
14 David Miliband’s Banana
Ed Miliband should really have learned that food was not his friend. His brother David Miliband, also a Labour party politician, was caught short with a banana several years before. While entering the Labour party conference he was faced by a bank of photographers. They asked him what he was holding and he jauntily showed them his banana… the rest is history.
That party conference was David Miliband’s big moment. There were rumours that he was being lined up as a potential Prime Minister. Then this photo entered the public mind and the Miliband brand took a knock. Like his brother years later David began to be seen as a bit too nerdy to be the bright young thing of British politics. Instead the Labour party turned to Gordon Brown as their choice for Prime Minister… and were defeated in the next election.
The man who did become Prime Minister, David Cameron, took the hint about politicians and food. He refused to ever be seen eating with his hands. This back fired on him when he was photographed eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Not exactly how the man on the street does it.
13 Donald Trump’s Double Chin
Donald Trump is perhaps the first person to be elected to the US presidency to have thicker chins than skin. Most politicians in the US are so used to the rough and tumble that they let any insult roll off them. Trump, in many, many ways, is not the usual politician. Like any school bully he can dish out the insults but he can’t take the truth.
At a first meeting with media outlets after the election where you might think the important matters of the free speech, monopolies, and truth would be the main topics of discussion something else came up. Butting into the conversation were Trump’s impossible to ignore multiple chins.
Trump picked out NBC in particular as an offender who always used unflattering images of him. Reportedly he pulled a face which emphasized his many chins and asked them not to use it. The internet took this request and did something a little different with it…
12 Saddam and Rumsfeld
The last Gulf War was one of the most contentious wars ever entered into. Was Saddam Hussein hoarding chemical and nuclear weapons? Did the government lie to us? Why was the war necessary? The Bush administration pushed hard for the conflict and out front as a cheerleader for war was Donald Rumsfeld. In briefing after briefing he told the world just what an awful person Saddam was and why exactly he had to be removed from power.
Donald Rumsfeld was in a perfect position to know Saddam’s sour personality. In the 1980s he met Saddam and shook his hand, which was caught on film. It was 1983 and Rumsfeld was in Baghdad to meet the United States’ new friend in the area. Saddam was a useful buttress against the spread of Iran and so the US was happy to supply him with weapons, including the ability to produce chemical weapons.
So when Rumsfeld claimed Saddam was in the WMD business he had personal experience.
11 Bush Holds Hands With Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
On September 11th the United States suffered its worst act of foreign terrorism. It would push the country into two wars and change the world. Since the US went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq you might imagine that the people who carried out the attacks came from there. In fact the majority of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia.
Instead of tackling the Saudis President George W. Bush invited senior Saudi royals to join him on congenial trips to the US. This struck some as strange since almost every other word out of Bush’s lips was “Democracy” and Saudi Arabia is still only toying with the idea. Their strict Islamic laws also do not tie in with Bush’s credo of Freedom for everyone.
So when, as here, he was seen holding hands with a Saudi Prince there were those uncharitable enough to suggest that his beliefs in freedom and democracy were only for those countries who were not major oil suppliers.
10 Biden Being Touchy
Joe Biden, US vice president, is a friendly and avuncular presence beside the cooler intelligence of Barack Obama. His folksy charm is one of his selling points. But it is something to enjoy from a distance rather than up close. To put it mildly Biden has problem with his hands.
These so called "Bidenings" include giving a neck grasp to the wife of the new Defense Secretary, touching a senator’s daughter, and getting a biker chick to sit on his lap. Joe Biden has been very open and up front in his support for women’s rights. He has spoken strongly in support of women’s rights to consent. It is just a little sad that he does not apply this to his Bidenings.
Most people see a Bidening as a harmless show of affection but it probably doesn’t help his fight against rape that these images exist.
9 Vladimir Putin Thumbs Up Topless Protestor
If there is one thing that Vladimir Putin dislikes it is shirts. The Russian President is often pictured showing off his Urals. If there is another thing that Putin hates it is opposition. Those who speak out too strongly against him have an unfortunate habit of turning up dead. So when a member of protest group Femen turned up it was not odds on that Putin would enjoy the experience.
Alexandra Shevchenko stripped to the waist to reveal a slogan written in Russian on her back “F*#K YOU PUTIN.” She also revealed her breasts. She ran out in front of Putin and German Chancellor Merkel and shouted about Russia’s lamentable human rights record. Finally we would find out whether Putin loved toplessness more than he despised criticism.
Nudity won. Putin apparently liked what he saw as he quickly gave the protest two thumbs up.
8 George W. Bush’s Turkey
Thanksgiving is not the best time to be Turkey. Millions die, few of them are noticeably thankful for it. Since the 1940s it has been traditional for the United States President to be presented with a Turkey by poultry producers. While Eisenhower ate all of the turkeys given to him President Kennedy spared the turkey presented to him just days before his assassination (coincidence?).
It was only under George Bush senior that it became tradition for the President to pardon the turkey in a show of clemency. The liberated turkey is then sent to live a long life of gobbling.
In 2001 George Bush junior suffered a brutal attack at the beak of the very turkey he was setting free. The image was captured for posterity. It can only be assumed that the turkey enjoyed its new life in Guantanamo.
7 John McCain’s Tongue
A photograph is a moment in time. Context can be stripped away and all that is left is an image.
John McCain, US senator, war hero, and Republican nominee for president can tell you all about how one unfortunate instant can be immortalised. During a debate with Barack Obama all McCain had to show was steady experience and dignity against his younger rival. All was going well until he was offered a handshake by the moderator. First he went one way, then another, then stood confused for a second. It was then he stuck his tongue out in perplexity.
And that was the image of the night. McCain as the bewildered old man was what turned up on front pages and in a thousand memes.
6 Rob Ford
Rob Ford was the larger than life mayor of Toronto. He served in office for three years before becoming embroiled in a drugs scandal. Instead of resigning when he hit the tabloid covers he insisted on remaining in office. The hunt was on for more embarrassing moments from the Mayor’s life.
Before his election to mayor Ford had been caught up in events involving substance abuse, but these did not dent his popularity. In 2013 though several papers claimed to have seen a video of Ford smoking crack. The video came to light during a police investigation into drug gangs. While the video was not released at the time it was easy for people to believe that it existed because Ford allowed himself to be photographed with members of the gang.
Ford denied smoking crack for months but finally said “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine but… am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
5 Parliamentary Brawls
Legend has it that the lines on the floor of the British House of Commons are two sword widths apart to dissuade members from duelling. Despite parliaments supposedly being the calm hearts of democracy they do have a tendency to turn nasty. Just ask Caesar how violent legislation can turn.
Brawls and riots are all too common in the modern world. Some parliaments seem to be more given to outbreaks of fisticuffs. South Korea’s parliament is particularly prone to fights, as is Taiwan’s. Spitting, food fights, and tear gas have been known. And thanks to the public nature of this "debating" there is no shortage of photos on line to show the politicians involved squabbling like toddlers.
The photo used above comes from Ukraine’s parliament which is one of the worst in the world for fights breaking out. Further proof of this can be found below.
4 Oleg Barna Removes Arseny Yatseniuk
Usually when a Prime Minister is removed it is a behind the scenes battle of all the Machiavellian arts. In Ukraine they do things a little more literally.
Arseny Yatseniuk, Prime Minister of Ukraine, did not get along with the President’s party. While attempting to defend his record in Parliament a member of the President’s party, Oleg Barna, walked up to the podium. He sarcastically presented the Prime Minister with a bunch of red roses before physically grabbing him and trying to carry him away from the rostrum.
Barna’s actions were described as being driven by his passion, having fought on the front line in Ukraine. This being the Ukrainian parliament the literal manhandling of the Prime Minister was not the end of the matter. A brawl erupted between supporters of the Prime Minister and the President. What happened to the roses is not known.
3 Selfies at Mandela’s Funeral
We live in the age of the selfie stick. No memorial is too sacrosanct to avoid becoming the backdrop to someone’s narcissistic photography. The Berlin holocaust memorial and Auschwitz seem to be particular favourites. But there are those that should know better.
When Nelson Mandela died heads of states from around the world gathered to pay their respects. With so many famous faces you would have thought they would realize enough cameras would be there to capture the moment. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, prime minister of Denmark, wanted to be doubly sure that she did not forget that she had been sat next to President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron. She pulled out her phone and the three leaders huddled in for quick and smiling selfie.
Some people found using a memorial service for a quick selfie to be disrespectful. Luckily there were professional photographers there to capture the moment however.
2 Kim Il-Sung’s Neck
When you are a dictator you would think that image control would be easier. Golden statues set up in your honour tend to flatter your physique. And if a photographer shoots you from a bad angle you can simply shoot them back. For Kim Il-Sung of North Korea there was one paramount rule for capturing his image – never, ever get the back of his neck.
Beginning in the 1970s a calcium deposit started to grow on the North Korean leaders neck. Because of its location near the brain and spine it was inoperable. While relatively small at first the growth became as large as a baseball. Not wishing to constantly wear overly large scarves the dictator turned to a new method. Literally he insisted on always turning slightly right so that the left-leaning angle would hide the growth.
Local photographers were happy enough to go along with this rule. Foreign photographers on the other hand, when given the rare opportunity of a snap, took it.
1 Weiner’s Wiener
If fate had been unkind enough to give you the name Weiner and you were a politician you would think the one thing you would avoid was a scandal with your wiener. The headlines practically write themselves. All you have to do is keep your wiener under wraps.
For Anthony Weiner, congressman from New York, the temptation proved impossible to resist. Using Twitter and other social media he carried out conversations with women which soon turned into sexting. Weiner was not shy about getting his wiener out there. He posted a picture of his erect penis in his briefs to Twitter and, though quickly deleted, it was captured for posterity. He resigned from Congress.
Attempting a political comeback by running for New York Mayor two years later his campaign collapsed when further explicit images were revealed. His sexting even played a role in the General Election when his seized computer was used to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.