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On Inauguration Day, some critics were annoyed with Obama supporters who waved American flags with Mr. Obama’s image superimposed on them - a violation of U.S. Flag Code.

Still, Mr. Obama + American flag = good media.

As a complete package, a poised Mr. Obama in historic mode plus the American flag makes a compelling visual, whether splashed across newsprint or video. The presidential gravitas kicks in, outweighing the inevitable distractions of fidgety onlookers or inane commentary from TV anchors caught up in the moment.

Not everyone can pull it off, however.

Stranded in front of a phalanx of mighty flags at the Treasury Department recently, newly minted Secretary Timothy F. Geithner offered a less than riveting speech about the economic crisis. The contrast between man and setting was not good, what with all those monumental stars and bodacious golden fringe - prompting the Associated Press to observe that Mr. Geithner “looked dwarfed by the American flags behind him.”

And woe to the official who does not heed the importance of backdrop - like risque statuary horning in on a big moment.

Canny press photographers got flat on their backs to deliberately include the buxom, bare-breasted Spirit of Justice statue behind Attorney General Edwin Meese on the day he released the final findings of a pornography commission in 1986.

Six years later, his successor John Ashcroft got similar treatment from the mischievous press, and ultimately requisitioned $7,900 for a no-nonsense pair of blue velvet drapes to cover the statue non grata. She had ruined her last photo-op.

“We are actually saving money here. This is more cost-effective,” said a Justice spokeswoman at the time who explained that renting drapes would cost more than $2,000 per event. Besides that, the new drapes could be put up or taken down according to the “aesthetics” of each event.