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The Day's Weirdest Picture

This picture led every paper today, but I still can't get over it:


I want to know about the smile negotiations. Did the North Koreans demand a grin and Clinton's camp simply refused? Did the North Koreans except that Clinton was under strict order not to smile? Did they realize that not smiling would undercut the photo op? Did they think the stoic face made Kim Jong Il look tough?

I'd also like to know a bit more about Al Gore's role. According to The Washington Post, "North Korea rejected Gore, the administration's first choice, as the emissary for the trip." But Obama's statement thanked "both former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their extraordinary work." So much backstory!

Photo credit: Korean Central News Agency Via Korea News Service Via Associated Press Photo.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 5, 2009; 3:05 PM ET
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Good points. The background is weird too. Are they surrounded only by Americans? Where's Kim's entourage?

Kim's an old man now, though, and that's probably just his cranky-old-man face.

Posted by: tomtildrum | August 5, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't know why I'm just not all fired up about this story, but I'm just not. President Clinton always looks like he is smiling though, including in this picture. It's definitely kind-of there....

Posted by: satrap | August 5, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse


How about a response to McCardle's demonization of your "obsession with experts?"

You made the point (rightly) that Pharmatech companies typically spend only 15% of budget on R&D--she subsequently compares that percentage to Google's and Apple's which are much lower.

Aside from the fact that healthcare is a far different commodity than internet searching or mp3 players, doesn't this warrant a response?

Posted by: frankwhite27 | August 5, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I thought Gore's involvement was simply because they were his employees?

Posted by: Newman4 | August 5, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Can we fix the italics?

Everything in the blog below "So much backstory!" is in italics. Makes for tough reading!

Posted by: rt42 | August 5, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

And the biggest question of all: what was Madame Tussaud's role in creating this photo-op?

Posted by: vagueofgodalming | August 5, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I read in a few articles that Gore was the one who asked Clinton to go (presumably after his presence was rejected?). So that's his involvement right there.

Posted by: maralenenok | August 5, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

It's like an American-Korean Gothic

But Clinton is doing a good job of suppressing his The Scream

Posted by: Patriot3 | August 5, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

maybe Kim isn't smiling because he had a stroke, and his smile looks lopsided or something - and so Clinton can't smile and have Kim look like a party pooper.

Posted by: wp11239 | August 5, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Kim is not smiling because smiling for photographs is just not part of the Asian culture. Clinton is not smiling because he doesn't want to be seen smiling with Kim, and Kim doesn't expect him to smile (because it's not part of Asian culture).

Posted by: DavidA2 | August 5, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

This a picture of contrasts. The viewer can pick the contrast that sticks out the most to them, but it's symbolic of a great divide that might never be bridged.

Posted by: mdfarmer | August 5, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Kim might not want to smile if he has a facial deformity from a stroke.

Posted by: StephenBank | August 5, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Smiling for photos, like using nicknames ("Bill"), being seen with pets and children, kissing babies, and eating ethnic foods, is something western politicians who want to be likeable do. These are not things that dictators who have pretences of godhood do. Kim isn't smiling because he doesn't smile in public. Clinton isn't smiling because it would be bizarre for him to smile while Kim is scowling.

Posted by: jrubydbrody | August 6, 2009 1:20 AM | Report abuse

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