On Monday night, the “big three” of ABC, CBS and NBC each spent portions of their evening newscasts reporting on the resignation of a House Republican staffer after she criticized Sasha and Malia Obama on her personal Facebook page. This marks the second full day of coverage since the first reports aired on Sunday morning and provides another example of a media double-standard between Democratic and Republican administrations.
During the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante characterized what GOP aide Elizabeth Lauten wrote as a “snarky posting” which anchor Scott Pelley said “sparked a firestorm.” [MP3 audio here; Video below]
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams remarked during the program’s Monday edition that the staffer in question, Elizabeth Lauten, broke a rule “that the news media and the mob usually both adhere to: Leave families out of the fight.”
Following that snide comparison, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker proclaimed that Lauten “took aim at the President through his daughters” and led to “the blowback” being “swift and brutal” as “#FireElizabethLauten started trending online.” All of that, Welker noted, culminated in Lauten’s resignation on Monday morning.
Welker concluded that the rule Lauten broke was something that “still holds true, even in these highly partisan times.”
Over on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, a news brief from anchor David Muir similarly followed CBS and NBC in reporting that Lauten’s had created “a firestorm when she posted criticism of the First Daughters.” Muir’s only mention of a Republican response was that they agreed with the criticism in that the First Daughters “are off-limits.”
CBS and NBC each did take brief moments to either mention or include a soundbite from Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer, who expressed agreement that Lauten’s comments were “inappropriate and insensitive,” he also blasted the media coverage of this story.
Plante reported that Spicer “slammed media coverage of the incident as appalling” and “said in a tweet that the press never covered similar comments by Democrats as intensely.”
A soundbite from Spicer on NBC included him stating that “there's no question that the media reaction is out of proportion to what this is.” Welker claimed immediately after that: “There's an unwritten rule that first children should be off limits when a teenage Chelsea Clinton was teased or Bush twins were scrutinized, there was a backlash.”
Looking back at recent media history, the claims made by NBC's Welker and Williams fail to add up. The Media Research Center documented back in 2001 that the networks had no problem promoting the actions of then-President George W. Bush’s daughters.
In one example, all three of the networks devoted multiple segments during their morning and evening newscasts on May 31, 2001 to an incident involving the Bush’s twin daughters. NBC Nightly News spent its “In Depth” segment that day discussing Jenna Bush’s use of a fake ID to order an alcohol drink at a Tex Mex restaurant with her twin sister Barbara on the night of May 28, 2001.
Earlier on May 31, ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas said this about the incident during Good Morning America as she spoke with guest Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News:
The White House had no comment, calling it a family matter. but Jenna's new brush with the law raises new questions: Is it an alcohol problem? Is it teenage rebellion? More importantly, is it anybody's business?...Wayne, I'd like to start with you, if I may. You say that Jenna's brushes with the law is the public's business. Why?
Absolutely, it is. Pretty much during the course of the governor's tenure in office as the governor, we paid little attention to the daughters. But when you have the daughter of the President of the United States in an incident in which the police are involved, that's news.
The behavior of the Bush daughters did not end there. In 2005, the MRC reported that the Associated Press took a shot at Jenna Bush when leading into a story about how some members from Northwestern University’s women’s lacrosse team wore flip-flops when they visited the White House.
At the beginning of the un-bylined story on July 19, the AP article brought up how Jenna also wore flip-flops when she appeared in court in 2001 to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge after possessing alcohol as a minor.
The double-standard doesn’t stop there as the media continue to promote Lauten’s comments while a staff member of a Democratic member of Congress was arrested recently. On November 17, a member of Ohio Democratic Congresswoman Joyce Beatty’s staff was arrested at a Cleveland Brown’s NFL game.
It was known at the time what the details of the situation were other than that the female staffer “was accused of criminal simulation.”
The complete transcript of the news brief that aired on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir on December 1 can be found below.
ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
December 1, 2014
6:40 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION:
DAVID MUIR: Back here at home tonight to that firestorm over this image of Sasha and Malia Obama there at the annual turkey pardon. A Republican aide sparking a firestorm when she posted criticism of the First Daughters, writing, “I get you’re both in those awful teenage-year-olds, but you're apart of the First Family. Try to show a little class.” Elizabeth Lauten later apologizing, removing her controversial posts and tonight, she has resigned. Republican Party officials saying children, especially the First Daughters, are off-limits.
The transcript of the segment that aired on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on December 1 is transcribed below.
CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
December 1, 2014
6:30 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Off-Limits?]
SCOTT PELLEY: Should the President's daughters be off limits to online critics? Bill Plante on today's resignation over comments about Malia and Sasha.
6:46 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Crossing the Line?]
PELLEY: Many commented on the Obama’s daughters' body language at a White House event, but did one post cross the line? That's coming up.
6:49 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Resignation]
PELLEY: Also resigning today is Elizabeth Lauten, a congressional aide whose Facebook post about President Obama's daughters Malia and Sasha sparked a firestorm. Here's senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.
BILL PLANTE: The snarky posting was about the Obama girls at the annual White House Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning and it violated the unwritten rule that children in the White House are off limits.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: [TO DAUGHTERS MALIA AND SASHA] You guys want to pet him?
SASHA OBAMA: Nah.
PLANTE: “Try showing a little class,” Lauten wrote on Facebook. “I’m guess you're coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at the bar, and don't make faces during televised public events.” Lauten wasn't the only one to suggest that the First Daughters looked bored or maybe just like teenagers, but her post was the most critical and went viral, even though Lauten apologized a few hours later. “I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager,” she wrote. The backlash has continued. Tweets and blogs on the web called for Lauten to be fired. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest says he was taken aback that a political staffer criticized the First Daughters.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: I was surprised about that, but I will say that there are – you know, that she has posted an apology to her web site and I think that was, you know an appropriate thing for her to do.
PLANTE: Republican national committee communications director Sean Spicer agreed that Lauten's comments were inappropriate, but, Scott, he also slammed media coverage of the incident as appalling. He said in a tweet that the press never covered similar comments by Democrats as intensely.
PELLEY: Senior White House correspondent Bill Plante. Thank you, Bill.
The full transcript of the report that aired on NBC Nightly News on December 1 is transcribed below.
NBC Nightly News
December 1, 2014
7:15 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Backlash]
BRIAN WILLIAMS: It is one of the few rules that the news media and the mob usually both adhere to: Leave families out of the fight. However, tonight, a Republican staffer is out of a job after something she wrote on social media about the First Daughters. We get our report tonight from White House correspondent Kristen Welker.
KRISTEN WELKER: It's an annual tradition: The pardoning of the White House turkey, but this year, some people thought teenagers Sasha and Malia seemed less than impressed. Some parents thought they were acting their age.
THE WASHINGTON POST’S RUTH MARCUS: Maybe there was a teeny bit of eye rolling at their Dad. Excuse me, what parent of a teenager hasn't experienced that?
WELKER: But then, a Republican Congressman's communications director, Elizabeth Lauten, took aim at the President through his daughters, posting on Facebook, “you're a part of the first family, try showing a little class....Then again your mother and father don't respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I'm guessing you're coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department....Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.” The blowback was swift and brutal. The #FireElizabethLauten started trending online. She took down the post and apologized writing, “after many hours of prayer....I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were.” Lauten resigned today without further comment. Republicans said it was the right move, but –
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR SEAN SPICER: While her comments were inappropriate and insensitive and exhibited a lack of judgment, there's no question that the media reaction is out of proportion to what this is. This is a mid-level staffer for a rank file member.
WELKER: There's an unwritten rule that first children should be off limits when a teenage Chelsea Clinton was teased or Bush twins were scrutinized, there was a backlash.
FORMER LAURA BUSH CHIEF OF STAFF ANITA MCBRIDE: We don't have royalty in our country, but we do have our First Families and we do feel that they're part of the, you know, the fabric of our nation and, so, we might feel a little bit of protection over them.
WELKER: It's a rule that still holds true even in these highly partisan times. Kristen Welker, NBC News, Capitol Hill.