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.


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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