The Slatest

The Best Photos We Didn’t Use This Week: Mask Fails on Capitol Hill

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland adjusts his face mask, which is covering his eyes, nose, and mouth, as he stands at a lectern.
They say justice is blind … Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll publish the weirdest photo from the wires.

There are many wrong ways to wear a mask. Venturing outside these days, you’re likely to see some people with masks pulled down under the chin, covering the mouth but not the nose, or dangling limply from one ear. But here’s a new one to cross off on your bingo card. In this March 11 photo, Merrick Garland wears his mask like a blindfold as he addresses the Justice Department’s staff on his first day as U.S. attorney general. Was this a faux pas, a clever homage to the figure of Lady Justice, or a defense mechanism acquired after his last stint in the national spotlight? Who’s to say.

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Candid photos like this one allow us to see public officials looking like utter dorks as they try to run the country. A photographer with a sharp eye can capture a split-second misstep at a hearing or campaign event, and voila, it is now part of the official record to be pored over, analyzed, and giggled at. Despite their carefully manufactured public appearances, politicians can be taken down a peg by something as mundane as a pesky face mask, just like the rest of us.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Vice President Kamala Harris walk side-by-side down the steps of Air Force Two. A strong breeze has blown Emhoff's mask over his eyes.
Whoops! Mandel Ngan/Getty Images
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Take this March 15 photo, in which second gentleman Doug Emhoff appears to be bracing for impact. Emhoff’s mask got blown out of place by a gust of wind as he and Vice President Kamala Harris descended the stairs of Air Force Two. But as a visual text, this photo is rich with symbolic undertones. This could be a man stepping into the unknown, uncertain of what’s to come. The position of the hands—one over his face, the other gripping Harris’ hand—lends an air of mortification, grief, or perhaps even fear to the blustery scene. (The image also inadvertently recalls a New Yorker cover from the beginning of the pandemic, in which Donald Trump is blindfolded by a face mask while he yells with his mouth exposed.)

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Rep. Jerry Nadler sits with his face mask over his forehead. A placard in front of his seat reads "Mr. Nadler, Chairman."
Something’s a little off here. Erin Scott–Pool/Getty Images

And here’s Rep. Jerry Nadler, modeling the unicorn horn look. He had moved his mask out of the way so he could take a sip of a beverage, but the juxtaposition with his very serious “Mr. Nadler, Chairman” placard is inspired.

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Rep. Fred Upton puts on a face mask that says "Dignity" across the front. The mask covers his eyes, nose, and mouth.
He’s certainly sending a message. Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

Finally, what more needs to be said about this, ahem, rather undignified photo of Michigan Rep. Fred Upton? It’s art.

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