Mainstream media was sent into a frenzy when First Lady Michelle Obama decided not to wear a veil during her latest trip to Saudi Arabia for King Abdullah’s funeral.
Headlines insisted Mrs. Obama was boldly disrespecting Saudi customs and slammed her blue dress as an “outrageous western outfit” despite the fact that many politicians before her opted out of wearing a veil. Eventually some reports reminded the public that not wearing a veil in Saudi Arabia is simply a part of the normal protocol for most leaders visiting Saudi Arabia.
The onslaught of skewed media coverage about the First Lady’s visit came shortly after an Instagram photo of Malia Obama sparked serious controversy and one GOP staffer boldly claimed that the Obama daughters need to start trying to “show a little class.”
Along with racist comics taking aim President Obama being published in newspapers and photoshopped images portraying the First Lady as a transvestite, it’s clear that both mainstream media and social media users alike are taking a no-holds-barred approach when it comes to taking jabs at the first family.
But this also sparks a serious discussion about when all the negative media attacks have gone too far and why does it seem that now, more than ever, nothing is off limits even when dealing with the nation’s leader?
As New York Times writer Timothy Egan pointed out back in December, the one thing the president just can’t seem to get much of in the nation he is trying to lead is a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
“From the day he took office, his legitimacy has been challenged, his American birth has been suspect, and he’s been personally insulted, lectured, yelled at and disrespected in the public, by public figures, in a way that few if any American presidents have ever faced,” Egan wrote.
Regardless of where people stood on politics in the past, there has usually been a general show of respect for the man who has taken on the role of what many say is the “worst job in the world.”
Trying to find solutions to mending a broken economy, taking on terrorists over seas, navigating the racial issues that are plaguing America, trying to boost education all across the country and so much more is clearly a difficult job and one that the president isn’t even solely responsible for. Either way, a part of living in the White House is being the nation’s scapegoat for all things gone wrong and receiving little to no credit for any political successes—and in President Obama’s case, that philosophy has been taken to the extreme.
There have been few American media outlets to really discuss anything, anything at all, that the president may have done right, so Canadian press took it upon themselves to remind the country to look at the bigger picture.
“Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries,” one Canadian wrote in a letter that went viral after being published in a Canadian newspaper. “The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling…When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?”
Even Egan was surprised that nobody seems concerned with the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative that connects young men of color to mentors.
It was a surprising message considering American media is much more concerned about what t-shirt the president’s teenage daughter is wearing or whether or not the First Lady covered her hair during a trip overseas.
According to KTVA CBS 11 reporter Sierra Leona Starks, this is the unfortunate result of ushering in the nation’s first Black president while the digital age is also booming.
It’s hard to imagine a situation where the nation’s first Black president in a country still struggling with racism wouldn’t be under an extremely critical eye, but when social media and digital media come into play the situation quickly worsens.
“Before if someone had a stupid opinion they just had to keep it to themselves or tell a friend,” Starks told Atlanta Blackstar. “Now they get to tell Twitter.”
As Starks explained, this doesn’t just add to the racist comments being made on social media sites but it also encourages digital publications to follow social media’s lead.
As more publications are fighting for shares and likes on social media platforms, the desire to create sharable content has become greater than the desire to create accurate content.
“It’s sad,” Starks said. “They consult social media for the trends before they write their own story and they kind of follow what the conversation is online.”
Unfortunately, those conversations online don’t encourage the kind of forgiving, sympathetic stories that urged the nation to understand that George W. Bush’s daughters are just like any other girl their age.
Bush’s twin daughters, who were still teens at the time, had quite a few legal troubles during their father’s time in office, but the way the media dealt with them is a stark contrast to what the nation has seen of Malia and Sasha.
When the Bush twins were busted for using fake IDs to purchase alcohol, one media outlet even asked, “What’s the big deal?”
The bias has even caused one of the Bush daughters, Jenna Bush Hager, to rush to the first daughters’ defense.
“I’m fiercely protective of [Sasha and Malia] and obviously I don’t think it’s easy,” the former first daughter said. “It’s not a job that they wanted and so it’s hard…They’re great girls.”
The Obamas don’t have too much longer in the White House as election year is swiftly approaching, but there isn’t much hope that the unfair criticisms will ever stop.
“I think it will keep going, definitely,” Starks said.
It’s an unfortunate reminder that in a nation that claims to be post-racial, the first Black family to reside in the White House may never see the end of unfair, unwarranted, inaccurate, racially-biased attacks both online and in media headlines.