Kate Dailey at Newsweek’s The Human Condition has written a fabulous analysis of why a few people might have fabricated the whole “controversy” as an excuse to discuss Obama’s body, fashion choices and sense of decorum yet again: “It’s entirely possible that ‘some in the media’ were a little shocked to see Obama wearing shorts and wanted to report on it. August is a slow news month, and covering people who are actually shocked and outraged about health care can only fill so many minutes in the Twitterfied news cycle.” Even so, why would journalists invent a bunch of shocked and outraged citizens out of whole cloth? “Because if there’s not controversy, it’s just the American public gawking at a woman’s form … to ogle the first lady on national TV requires a bit of news-related window dressing.” Oh, Kate Dailey, you make me swoon.
To be fair, the original pushers of the “Shorts are scandalous!” meme probably didn’t think they were authoring an imaginary controversy, so much as anticipating an inevitable one. Given all the attention paid to Michelle Obama’s arms and Hillary Clinton’s “cleavage,” it probably seemed like a safe assumption that someone, somewhere would go apeshit about the first lady’s semi-naked legs. Unfortunately, even with “the Twitterfied news cycle” putting pressure on journalists, it’s still usually best to wait for news to happen before reporting on it.
And beyond that, even if someone, somewhere, truly was offended by Obama’s shorts, that still wouldn’t make it news. A certain percentage of Americans are offended by the Obama family’s very existence, and that faction is getting entirely too much coverage from reputable news outlets these days. A bunch of whackjobs claim the president isn’t a U.S. citizen, or that he wants to kill your grandma (who probably doesn’t care for the first lady’s shorts at all), and the media keeps repeating their outlandish claims until more people begin to believe they’re true. There will always be ill-informed cranks claiming to represent the “other side” of a “debate” in a country where 39 percent of people “want government to stay out of Medicare” and 6 percent of Birthers apparently base their concerns on a belief that Hawaii is not a state. That doesn’t mean there’s any newsworthy controversy about the facts; it just means a lot of people are ignorant and hate the president.
As ludicrous nontroversies go, then, I suppose I’ll take a fashion-related one over one where treating the “other side” as credible involves promoting falsehoods that muddy the public’s understanding of serious, complicated issues like healthcare reform. But still, shorts? In August? In Arizona? Really? Sigh. I guess all we can do now is wait for Maureen Dowd to name the first gams.