The image of President Donald Trump standing in front of the U.S. presidential seal altered to include the symbol of a Russian double-headed eagle clutching golf clubs at Washington, D.C.’s Marriott Marquis may be as horrifying to meeting planners as it was intentionally, or unintentionally, funny to the world.

To add insult to injury, the presidential seal also replaced the phrase “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “Out of many, one,” with “45 es un titere,” which translates to “45 is a puppet” in Spanish.

The audiovisual train wreck followed a 12-minute video portraying Trump’s rise to the presidency during a July 23, 2019, campaign-style appearance for the conservative group Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit 2019.

Turning Point blamed the incident on a last-minute rush to find a presidential seal online and fired the employee it deemed responsible two days later.

Whether intentional or not, the altered seal was inarguably a brilliant piece of political satire, no matter what one’s political beliefs are. But the fact that it was displayed behind the most powerful person on Earth in front of some of his most ardent supporters raises troubling issues for meeting and event planners and their organizations.

Meetings Today reached out to meetings industry attorney Tyra Warner Hilliard to assess the legal ramifications of a situation similar to the Marriott Marquis mishap, and also audiovisual veteran Jon Trask, owner of Strategic Meeting Tech, to get the AV perspective.

Meetings Legal Issues Regarding Errant AV

Warner Hilliard listed two potential legal risks associated with an AV mistake such as this, but stressed they are by no means certainties. Warner Hilliard’s comments were made in the spirit of the intention behind the altering of the seal not being certain.

Defamation: The presidential seal could have been altered to ridicule Trump. Had it been even more extreme than just ridicule, it might have risen to the level of defamation, especially given the fact that it was televised and broadcast. 

The same would apply to a corporate CEO standing in front of an altered company logo or association executive and an altered association logo.

Trademark: There might be an intellectual property issue such as trademark infringement (not in this case since it's government) had this been a business logo and not the presidential seal. 

Trademarks exist to identify the goods and services of an owner, so altering it—especially if it in any way disguised the real owner—could create a cause of action.

An Audiovisual Take on the Trump Presidential Seal Mix-Up

In his decades working in the meeting and event audiovisual profession, Trask has been privy to backroom AV operations at the highest level.

“I know a technical director/show caller who did an event for President Obama,” Trask said. “He described it at the time to me and it was extremely structured and regimented. I have a feeling that was not the case with the current White House.”

Aside from perspectives on the organizational skills of White House staffs, Trask said high-profile organizations have a very high degree of quality control when it comes to the display of their logos in front of an audience.

“I can say that even for most corporate clients, the larger the organization, the more specific and regimented their team is about graphics, standards and such,” he said. “Even to the point of matching light gels—when we used those—exactly to their color palette.

“Smaller companies and associations can be looser,” he added. “But even then, someone from the client’s team is usually involved in any creation or approvals.

“I used to bring in specific graphics people on larger shows, but their job was usually clean up or formatting,” Trask continued, “and that was usually done with the client in the loop.”

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While conference organizer Turning Point blamed the mishap on a reckless last-minute Google search and not malicious intent, the aide responsible for the mistake was fired. Of course, the conspiracy-minded among us may still debate how it actually happened.

Leaving all eventualities on the table, and despite Turning Point’s assurances that the “presidential seal” in question was an honest mistake due to time constraints, Trask summed up his initial thinking on the matter as follows:

“My first question was if it was the in-house company or an outside one—mostly just curious about that,” Trask said. “But it might help us to decipher where the operators came from. It’s doubtful there would be a graphics guy in-house slick enough to pull this off, but a freelancer is very possible. Any freelancer would know it’s career suicide if caught. And they would be caught, eventually, as the company is going to take a reputation hit. I’ve seen freelancers blacklisted for much lesser acts then embarrassing the president (and the company).”

Trask’s initial thoughts did bear fruit after news of the Turning Point staffer’s termination.

“Someone is going to get thrown way under the bus,” Trask opined, “but it’s kind of like the old AV joke that we get blamed for everything, even if it has nothing to do with us—the coffee is cold, it must be AV’s fault...”

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