T-shirtgate: From meme to Malkin

Pundit class and grassroots alike, partisan ideologues on right find fault with Obama at Tucson memorial event


Christopher Walker
January 14, 2011 3:10AM (UTC)

Even before President Obama's speech at the Tucson memorial had ended, the right-wing grassroots was hard at work on the Twitter hastags #tcot and #teaparty trying to figure out what was wrong with it. With the exception of some fair-minded moderates -- probably RINOs now -- who conceded that the tone was presidential despite a raucous audience, most conservative tweeps described the event as tacky at best, opportunistic and manipulative at worst.

But one meme emerged fairly quickly: Someone distributed T-shirts with the name of the event, "Together We Thrive, Tucson & America." In the two hours following the speech, the second most tweeted link with the hashtag #teaparty was this: "They Couldn’t Help It… Team Obama Hands Out T-Shirts at Pep Rally Memorial." Incidentally, the top #teaparty URL was a troll-tagged Funny or Die video.

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Interestingly, the most comprehensive version of the story was being spun by Michelle Malkin, even before the event, but never showed up in the top 10 URLs for #tcot, #teaparty or #p2. Nevertheless, the story is playing well on Memeorandum right now. In her piece, Malkin tries to argue that the T-shirts were part of an effort to "brand" the event. Eventually, she begrudgingly adds a disclaimer to the piece:

Update: As noted above, the University of Arizona announced the Together We Thrive event — and a few readers write in to say that the campus initiated the logo/campaign. Given U of A president Robert Shelton’s embarrassing, thinly-veiled partisan cheerleading for Obama tonight, it may indeed be a 100 percent-campus-initiated campaign. Given the Obama White House’s meticulous attention to stage prop details, however, I would say the odds of involvement by Axelrod/Plouffe & Co. are high.


Christopher Walker

Christopher Walker is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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Barack Obama Gabrielle Giffords Tea Parties

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