The familiar circumstance in which members of the press clutch at their pearls, seek out the fainting couch, and demand satisfaction for perceived insults to the Obama family’s honor has grown lamentably predictable.
Another opportunity for the media to freely and unapologetically identify with the Obamas emerged over the weekend when President Barack Obama performed the annual tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey. It was then that an obscure congressman’s even more obscure communications staffer took to her Facebook page, which no one but her blood relatives had read prior to this manufactured fracas, and criticized the way in which the president’s daughters had comported themselves.
“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class,” Rep. Stephen Fincher’s (R-TN) communications director, Elizabeth Lauten, wrote. “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.”
“At least respect the part you play,” she added. “Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much or the nation foe [sic] that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.”
Someone spotted the post, and the media decided to play a familiar game of “#HasJustineLandedLet” – a favored pastime over slow holiday news cycles in which the press resolves to ruin the reputation of a relatively anonymous public relations figure over a previously unseen statement subjectively determined to be offensive.
A casual Google search for Lauten’s remarks reveals hundreds of articles, some examining familiar avenues of the controversy while others plumb more abstruse elements of this hullabaloo. The backlash was so fierce that Lauten was forced to apologize, but that is simply not good enough for the sadly recognizable online mob. On the popular African-American commentary site The Grio, readers are offered the chance to vote on whether Lauten should lose her job over her decision to express her opinion. By a 9-to-1 margin, readers agree that Lauten should soon be forced to join the unemployment lines.
“To most people, this was funny and humanizing—maybe even charming!” The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote. “As Max Read over at Gawker put it: ‘Not even the pomp and ritual of the White House can overcome the most powerful force known to man: TEEN CONTEMPT.'”
The Root’s Demetria Lucas noted that it is never especially smart to criticize the president’s daughters, but “especially if you work for a GOP congressman.” Presumably, then, Lucas’s would shed some of her noble and principled objection to this grievous insult if it had come from a Democrat. Bizarrely, Lucas went on to suggest that, by criticizing the way in which the Obama girls were dressed, Lauten had essentially condoned sexual assault. “Way to uphold rape culture, Lauten,” she wrote.
Not everyone in the press is joining in on the opportunity to torment the heretic. The New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman observed that the fabricated nature of the outrage surrounding these remarks is betrayed by the obscurity of the individual who made them.
Never has a no-name staffer to a no-name congressman gotten so much press. C'mon folks. It's Stephen Fincher's flak http://t.co/s84lpaBBZ1
— Jonathan Weisman (@jonathanweisman) November 30, 2014
This whole episode is so transparent that it barely merits being addressed. This is just another of the increasingly infrequent opportunities for the media to suggest that Republicans, particularly those in Congress, are consumed by a brutish, unthinking animus toward the president which renders their opposition to him illegitimate.
The story became wildly popular over the weekend due, in part, to its extremely low barrier to entry; zero understanding of policy or appreciation for political norms is required for the layman to form an opinion about the behavior of the president’s two teenage daughters. And while it may have been uncouth to criticize what the Obama girls were wearing, Lauten’s decision to express the offense she took over how the two girls were intentionally projecting their dissatisfaction with having to appear with their father at a public event was perfectly legitimate.
The press may claim another scalp at the end of the day – that end is always the design of this kind of contrived indignation. In the end, conservatives should take it all in stride. Good news for the left-leaning press has been in such short supply of late that if their only remaining source of validation is an unknown like Lauten, liberals are in for a rough final two years of the Obama presidency.
UPDATE: The press has claimed its scalp.