Call it the selfie seen ’round the world.
Among the enduring images from Nelson Mandela’s massive memorial service in Johannesburg Tuesday will be one of a jovial President Obama taking a cell phone pic with his seat-mates, Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Britain’s David Cameron.
As the three of them smile for the camera, a stern-looking Michelle Obama can be seen staring straight ahead, hands clasped. As if to remind anyone who sees this photo years from now that it was, after all, a memorial service for one of the great human rights leaders.
The tsk-tsk-ing could be heard for miles.
“What on earth is going on? Why do world leaders now behave like this?” The Daily Telegraph’s Iain Martin wrote. “Perhaps it is just that the current generation — my generation — is so appallingly spoiled that basic notions of decorum have been shot to pieces.”
RedState.com’s Erick Erickson tweeted: “Thank you Mrs. Obama for knowing how to behave at a funeral.”
The first lady’s reaction — not just to the “selfie” but to her husband’s chatting and joking with the young Danish prime minister — was priceless. In one picture, Michelle Obama could be seen glaring over at him while he put his hand on Ms. Thorning-Schmidt’s shoulder.
In another, it appeared the first lady and the president switched seats, putting Michelle squarely between him and the PM.
After the images surged through social media, the White House on Wednesday released its own set of photos of Obama’s South Africa visit. Perhaps it was no accident that among them was a picture of Obama, the first lady and the Danish prime minister.
But in this one, Obama was talking to his wife, while Thorning-Schmidt seemed preoccupied with her phone.
The “selfie” incident was the second unexpected controversy stirred up by the president in South Africa. Earlier, Cuban-American lawmakers publicly objected after Obama — on his way to deliver his tribute to Mandela — shook the hand of Raul Castro.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called the moment “nauseating.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who was at the Johannesburg service, walked out when Castro spoke.