The White House spent up to $357,000 for the Presidential Airlift Group—which includes the 747 that is Air Force One when the President is on board and a military fighter jet escort—to fly over lower Manhattan and take pictures—and this is the photograph they release? It's really mediocre—we guess they didn't want to spend the money/time to Photoshop it up. And why not at least give us a shot of the darn plane in front of the lower Manhattan skyline? Or is that too good for us?
The White House released the above photograph and a report about the seriously ill-advised plan to have the planes fly over lower Manhattan on April 27—freaking out New Yorkers who remember 9/11. Plus, the White House aide who ordered the photo op, Louis Caldera, resigned from his position as director of the White House Military Office.
Here's a link to the report (PDF): Apparently the Deputy Director George Mulligan sent an email to Caldera on April 24:
Sir: per our conversation about [the airlift group's commandeer, Colonel] Scott Turner's plans to fly over the Statue of Liberty - it's scheduled for this Monday, April 27th. All has been coordinated. AF PA plan/statement is below and will be released only if asked. Will probably receive some local press, but WH shouldn't catch any questions about it. Provided in case you want to pass to Jim Messina or Robert Gibbs for awareness. This is an AF operation, in close coordination with FAA. Happy to discuss with you as necessary.
Of course, deputy chief of staff Jim Messina and press secretary Robert Gibbs weren't told.
Caldera, when asked when they weren't informed, said:
He noted that the Deputy Director had not told him (and he did not understand) that Air Force One would be flying over lower Manhattan at a very low altitude. He then stated that people frequently recommend that he notify Mr. Messina about certain events. Sometimes they are right; sometimes they are wrong. Finally, the Director stated that he was not asked to approve the flight. If he had been asked to make a decision, he would have received a formal package requesting his approval and he would have expected earlier and more extensive discussions with Colonel Turner and the Deputy Director.Mulligan said he didn't tell Messina or Gibbs because he "believed-based on his discussions with Colonel Turner and the various emails he received-that experienced professionals had planned the mission, and they had taken necessary steps to ensure the public was notified. Second, he believed that the Director would pass the information up the chain of command. This was standard office procedure, and he believed the Director preferred it that way."
The Daily News reports staffers were unhappy: "The FAA warned the Military Office that the media needed to be advised of the flight. There were red flags" and "This (incident) was just plain stupid." Or plane stupid! Also, why not give the public a photo of the plane in front of some NYC buildings at least?
Also, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man who has better things to do than to worry about plane photo ops, wrote a letter to Senator John McCain about the mission, "I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and DoD (Defense Department) officials... The mission was coordinated with FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) liaisons, Systems Operations Security team members, and traffic managers; New York air traffic control representatives; and Newark and LaGuardia tower supervisors...On April 24, 2009 the FAA notified multiple agencies ofthe impending flight, including the US Park Police, NYC Mayor's Office, NYC Office of Emergency Management, NYC Police Department Operations, New Jersey State Police Regional Coordination Center, and several New Jersey area emergency operations centers." You can read the whole thing here (PDF).