If you followed #SOTU on Twitter while watching the State of the Union address on Tuesday, you may have been surprised by how many smart pundits -- conservative and liberal -- spent more time obsessing over President Obama's and House Speaker John A. Boehner’s tie selection rather than the message delivered.
Perhaps I’m in no position to judge. Half of the reason I tune in to award shows is for the celebrity fashion. But the State of the Union was not a red carpet event and Boehner did not, in fact, look like he was wearing a salmon around his neck.
But these pundits’ shallow comments were nothing compared to BuzzFeed’s ridiculous item rounding up GIFs of Boehner, a Republican, blowing his nose during the SOTU and looking at his tissue or handkerchief before tucking it back into his jacket pocket. “John Boehner Looks At His Boogers During The State Of The Union,” announce the headline on the post put together by BuzzFeed staffers Benny Johnson and Dorsey Shaw. “The Speaker saw a winner,” they cracked in the subhead.
Get a grip people. Yeah, it’s amusing -- and I appreciate a good laugh. But this was pointless adolescent humor, not incisive commentary with a punch line. What’s worse: BuzzFeed is in the process of trying to transform itself into a legitimate news source.
“I think it’s a tacky and juvenile post that undermines the legitimacy of BuzzFeed’s actual reporting and the journalism industry as a whole. If that’s what it takes to grab eyeballs these days, I need to start looking into a new profession,” a cable news insider told Betsy Rothstein for an article on FishbowlDC about the media backlash.
John Nolte, editor of the conservative site Breitbart.com, also took issue with the piece, telling Rothstein: “The media has devolved to such a point that Republicans now have to execute everything flawlessly in order to avoid the media turning ‘the whatever’ into THE story. […] By focusing on nonsense, this is how the media attempts to bedevil us, distract away from our message and make us look unattractive and incompetent.”
But wait. What if BuzzFeed was inadvertently doing the Republican Party a favor? That’s what one of my colleagues grumbled, saying that the Republicans have nothing to show for themselves right now and that they should welcome the distraction. Ouch.
Then again, a conservative might offer this interpretation: The president’s liberal message is so off-base with what Americans need right now, Boehner’s boogers literally deserve more attention.
A third way to look at Boogergate: It was a distraction from politics, period. Not only did it make a mockery out of the State of the Union, it was an insult and a disservice to readers who count on the media to help them make sense of political issues.
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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier