Would it kill special counsel Robert Mueller to leave the Justice Department one of these days? We’re not asking that he walk a red carpet, pose in front of a step and repeat, or show up at that one pumpkin patch that celebrities always visit as a publicity stunt. Maybe he could just step out for 10 minutes and take a little stroll around the block?
Why are we clamoring for new Mueller pics like paparazzi stalking Jennifer Aniston? Because every time his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election makes news—which is a lot these days—sites like Slate must use the same photos of Mueller we’ve been using since this past summer, the last time a photo was taken of the special counsel. Our nation’s poor photo editors are stuck with a cache of boring, already-used shots of one of the most newsworthy figures of our political moment.
June 21, 2017, is the date attached to the most recent shots of Mueller in Getty Images, a photo service that Slate and many other news outlets subscribe to—eight long months ago. It’s the same date of the last Mueller photos available from the Associated Press and Reuters, too. “Well obviously, Mueller is very busy and doesn’t get out much because he’s busy investigating Trump and his cronies,” Slate designer Derreck Johnson told me. But “I hope he steps out for some coffee soon or makes a Target run.”
Daily Beast director of photography Sarah Rogers said she empathizes with this plight. “We’re all pulling from the same general pool of photos that are available, and it’s definitely limiting,” she said. “The majority of the wire photos of [Mueller] that are available are from 2009 to 2013, and they’re all of him testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Really, there’s nothing more boring visually than someone speaking at a podium.” To get around this, Rogers said the Daily Beast has been able to lean on its house illustration style, which uses collage and pop-art elements to remix existing photos of Mueller.
Rogers said the Daily Beast ran into a similar situation when Steve Bannon was in the news all the time but photos of him on the wires were still sparse: “He’s not the most photogenic guy as it is. It was tricky to art those stories after a while. We all kind of came to be relieved when he was out of the picture and we didn’t have to make new illustrations of his face.”
Jonathan Simon, deputy photo editor at Quartz, speculated that Mueller is probably staying away from cameras on purpose—a shrewd move as his investigation comes under increasing partisan criticism. “He probably does not want to be the face of all this.”
Simon added that the scope of the investigation also, luckily for his purposes, expands the pool of photos that can go along with the story. “As the investigation continues and there are more indictments and threads to follow, Mueller almost becomes beside the point,” he said. “You’re dealing with this extremely complex cast of characters and places. There’s a lot of people involved. There are many other ways to illustrate the story other than just a picture of the lead investigator.”
In addition to characters like Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos, “you have a lot of documents and websites that have been implicated or brought up in these investigations. Sometimes the most story-telling image is going to be a screenshot of a document,” Simon said.
Still, we’re counting on Mueller, and we can’t help wondering what he’s up to and how he’s looking these days. Is his hair a little grayer from the stress of laying down those indictments? Is he rocking a slightly different part, perhaps to mark a new phase of the investigation? This is vital information. Mr. Mueller, stand still for a moment, and say cheese.