“I think in this case it was about a slow news cycle,” CNN media critic Brian Stelter said yesterday in a critique of the media’s coverage of Elizabeth Lauten’s Facebook comments about Sasha and Malia Obama. Michaela Pereira countered that it was a case of confronting a cyber-bully, but Brian Stelter lamented the lack of context and perspective in the all-out attack on an obscure Capitol Hill staffer. He also said that RNC communications director Sean Spicer had a point when it comes to the media’s enthusiasm for such stories when they involve Republicans, although thought Lauten’s case was more about the lack of anything else to cover in politics over the holiday weekend:
STELTER: …I do think there’s something to be said, though, for the fact that this was a relatively obscure woman. This wasn’t John Boehner’s chief of staff or something-
JOHN BERMAN: But that’s the thing – but that’s the thing here. I mean, without getting into political relativism – relativism over who can say what, and who gets criticized for saying what, it’s not like John Boehner was saying this-
BERMAN: It’s not like Mitch McConnell was saying this. It’s the communications director for a congressman that most people – many people outside of Tennessee haven’t heard of.
STELTER: No. I mispronounced his name the first time I said the guy’s name on TV over the weekend.
You know, this Facebook post she put up on Thanksgiving was barely even noticed until an African-American website, The Root, noticed it; wrote about it; and then, it went viral. So, you know, it doesn’t – it doesn’t explain away the comments-
BERMAN: It doesn’t make it okay what she said-
STELTER: But it puts them into context.
That’s part of the problem with the coverage — that it got blown out of perspective as a representation of Republicans rather than just an obscure staffer for one Congressman. The other problem with the media coverage of this really dumb Facebook post is media hypocrisy. One does not have to defend Lauten’s attack on the Obamas through their children to recognize that the media often does exactly the same thing with Republicans they dislike. As I wrote in my column for The Week today, the sanctimony of the Lauten coverage is worse than the lack of perspective in it:
Skip forward a few years to 2008, when John McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate. During the campaign, the media focused on the circumstances of Palin’s fifth pregnancy, speculating openly that Trig had actually been the child of teenaged Bristol Palin.
No one lost a job over that baseless smear, nor did Carol Costello at CNN for this year’s version of Palinoia. The Palin family made headlines for a fight that erupted at a party, which was certainly a legitimate news story. The CNN anchor, though, sounded positively gleeful to play the audio of a clearly traumatized Bristol describing how she had been assaulted. “Sit back and enjoy!” the CNN anchor told viewers. “This is quite possibly the best minute and a half of audio we’ve ever come across.” …
Finally, let’s go back to a particularly close parallel to Lauten, in 2005. The Washington Post offered a fashion critique by Robin Givhan of [John] Roberts’ children. “Separate the child from the clothes, which do not acknowledge trends, popular culture or the passing of time,” Givhan wrote about their attire. “They are not classic; they are old-fashioned. These clothes are Old World, old money and a cut above the light-up/shoe-buying hoi polloi.”
Did I mention that Jack and Josie Roberts were five and four years old at the time? Yet Givhan had no compunction about skewering them in order to paint their parents as snobs and out-of-touch aristocrats. The Post never apologized, and Givhan continued working there for another five years. She even won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for “transform[ing] fashion criticism into cultural criticism.”
Lauten’s job is to keep her boss in the media in a positive manner; her post on Facebook is about as big of a screw-up as possible in that regard. That’s not her only failure either, but the national media hardly has standing to lecture on the larger point:
All of this underscores the wisdom of keeping critical scrutiny focused on the real participants in politics, and not their children, especially adolescents or younger. Not only is that a more honorable approach, it’s more honest. If pundits and flacks can’t make coherent criticisms of political figures without putting kids in the line of fire, they should find another line of work. But perhaps rather than appointing themselves the paragons of propriety in this regard, media outlets should take this opportunity to clean their own houses first.
Note: Be sure to read Noah’s post on this topic from yesterday if you missed it, too. “Kids are off limits” shouldn’t be a canard, but it should be an equally-applied standard — especially in the media. (I write my columns independently of what gets published at Hot Air, so occasionally the topics will overlap.)