Networks Obsess Over GOP Staffer 'Cyber Bullying' Obama Daughters

Between Sunday and Monday, all three broadcast networks devoted full reports to a Republican congressional staffer criticizing the Obama daughters on her personal Facebook page. On ABC's Good Morning America on Sunday, host Dan Harris proclaimed: "The online outrage over an attack on President Obama's daughters. A Republican congressional staffer posting a rant on Facebook about the way Sasha and Malia looked and acted at this moment here during the White House turkey pardoning the other day."

In the report that followed, correspondent Gloria Riviera declared: "Republican congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten is in the hot seat this morning, accused of cyberbullying Sasha and Malia Obama....lecturing the girls not to make faces during televised public events in this Facebook rant, writing, 'Dear Sasha and Malia, I get it. You're both in those awful teen years but you're part of the first family, try to show a little class.'" Riviera touted "Twitter responding swiftly" and cited a tweet calling for Lauten's firing.

NBC covered the story both on Sunday and Monday's Today show. On Sunday, co-host Sheinelle Jones quoted users on Twitter not only condemning Lauten's initial comments but also slamming her later apology:

Both posts, as you can imagine, set off a social media firestorm. Nadine tweeted, "Two hours of prayer to realize humiliating minors on Facebook wasn't the way to go? Maybe communications director isn't you're thing." We also have another one from JR, he says, "Digital media consultant Elizabeth Lauten is doing a great job of highlighting all the a things you shouldn't do on social media."

On Monday, White House correspondent Kristen Welker played up the "cyber bullying" accusations: "Of course, criticizing Presidents' children has long been considered taboo in American politics and as we're seeing here in the age of the internet and social media, the backlash can be brutal....with some accusing her of 'Cyber Bullying.' The #FireElizabethLauten trending online."

Welker teed up a soundbite by claiming that "even some Republicans are still fuming." In the clip that followed, former Bush advisor Robert Traynham – also host of the Newsmakers program for NBC parent company Comcast – demanded: "This Hill staffer not only should be fired, this Hill staffer should jump over the White House fence and get on her hands and knees and apologize to the First Family."

Liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus was also featured in the report: "I thought she took off after teenage girls, not because they did anything wrong, but because she doesn't like the job that their dad is doing. And I don't think that's a very fair way to play politics."

On Monday's CBS This Morning, co-host Gayle King introduced a segment: "A congressional aide is at the center another social media controversy. A lot of people want her fired for criticizing President Obama’s daughters online. Bill Plante is at the White House with the backlash and an apology that some people say is too little too late for those comments."

Following Plante's report, fellow co-host Norah O'Donnell cited Lauten's remarks as "just part of our coarsening dialogue about treating other people with respect." Co-host Charlie Rose gushed over the Obama family: "This has really been really a remarkable family in terms of everything that we know about them as a family unit, not as a political unit." King agreed: "...they've been excellent parents and anybody who has met the Obama girls says that they're so normal and so great."

On Lauten, King added: "What really gets me is that this woman is a communications director. I think she might have missed a class or two."

The story wasn't just fodder for the morning shows, it was also briefly featured on ABC's This Week, when host Martha Raddatz observed: "...this was – stood out to me...the Facebook post on Sasha and Malia at the turkey pardoning this week." She invited liberal pundit Cokie Roberts to react. Roberts proceeded to suggest Lauten may have been on drugs: "It's ridiculous, but she's probably 18. I mean, it comes across that way. Social media is a problem and people should stay off of it, particularly if they've had any substance that they shouldn't be on."

Only Welker's Monday report on Today noted any criticism of the level of media scrutiny given to the personal Facebook comments of a congressional staffer: "Lauten is also a former aide for the Republican National Committee, and in a statement, RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer said he agreed that presidents' children are off-limits but also said the media coverage has been over the top, calling it 'appalling.'"

While the networks seized on Lauten's comments, the same media didn't have anything to say about liberal blog Slate.com setting up a sexually vulgar caption contest to mock the daughter of former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum in 2012.

The press have also been happy to tout nasty attacks against the family of Sarah Palin. Most recently, CNN host Carol Costello was delighted by an audio recording of daughter Bristol Palin describing how she was physically attacked at a party.

Following the intense media coverage, Lauten announced her resignation on Monday.

Here are transcripts of the reports on the network morning shows:

Good Morning America
11/30/14
8:15 AM ET

DAN HARRIS: Now to a very different kind of story. The online outrage over an attack on President Obama's daughters. A Republican congressional staffer posting a rant on Facebook about the way Sasha and Malia looked and acted at this moment here during the White House turkey pardoning the other day. The blowback here was fast and furious and ABC's Gloria Riviera has more.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Capitol Staffer Rips First Daughters; Apologizes After Facebook Rant]

GLORIA RIVIERA: Republican congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten is in the hot seat this morning, accused of cyberbullying Sasha and Malia Obama. Lauten chiding the first teens for acting, well, like teenagers, during President Obama's annual pre-Thanksgiving pardoning of two Turkeys.

BARACK OBAMA: You guys want to pet them?

SASHA OBAMA: Nah.

RIVIERA: Lauten lecturing the girls not to make faces during televised public events in this Facebook rant, writing, "Dear Sasha and Malia, I get it. You're both in those awful teen years but you're part of the first family, try to show a little class." The former RNC media director then taking jabs at their parents. "Then again, your mother and father don't respect their positions very much so I'm guessing you come up short in the role model department."

Despite the girls being well below the legal drinking age, Lauten writes "Dress like you deserve respect. Not a spot at the bar." Twitter responding swiftly. "Elizabeth Lauten is cyberbullying. I'm a teen and a facial expression in a moment doesn't define your true character." "Elizabeth Lauten should be fired. She went too far by attacking children."

HOWARD BRAGMAN [REPUTATION.COM]: Everybody who has anything to do with Washington knows that presidential kids are off-limits. It's that simple.

RIVIERA: Later in the day, the embattled GOP staffer removing the controversial post, replacing it with an apology. "After many hours of prayer, I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. I'd like to apologize." That apology has since been taken down or made private and there has been no response from the White House. Dan, Paula.

HARRIS: Yeah.

PAULA FARIS: You know what they say, you can mess with me but if you mess with my kids, don't go there.
HARRIS: Absolutely.

RON CLAIBORNE: Don't mess with your kids. Right?

FARIS: Yeah, I've got three of them. Mama bear will come out in a hurry.


Today
12/01/14
7:07 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Meantime, a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill is under fire this morning for harshly criticizing the President's daughters. The staffer suggested that Sasha and Malia are, quote, "classless." Well, now there are calls for that aide to lose her job. NBC's Kristen Welker is at the White House this morning. Kristen, good morning to you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Politics And the First Daughters; Aide Under Fire for Criticizing Sasha and Malia]

KRISTEN WELKER: Savannah, good morning to you. That congressional aide, Elizabeth Lauten, is apologizing after writing that Facebook post about the Obama daughters. Of course, criticizing Presidents' children has long been considered taboo in American politics and as we're seeing here in the age of the internet and social media, the backlash can be brutal.

It's an annual tradition. The President pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey with a little help from daughters Sasha, now 13, and Malia, 16.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: The annual pardoning of the turkey was held at the White House today...Many people remarked, as the grandparents would say, "How much they've grown."

WELKER: Some also playfully remarked that like all teenagers, they seemed less than impressed. But Elizabeth Lauten, the current communications director for Tennessee Congressman Steven Fincher, slammed the girls on Facebook, writing, "Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you're both in those awful teen years, but you're a part of the First Family. Try showing a little class." And, "Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar." That sparked a firestorm, with some accusing her of "Cyber Bullying." The #FireElizabethLauten trending online.

Later that day, Lauten apologized, writing, "After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, rereading my words online, I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were."

But even some Republicans are still fuming.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM [FORMER BUSH ADVISOR]: This Hill staffer not only should be fired, this Hill staffer should jump over the White House fence and get on her hands and knees and apologize to the First Family.

WELKER: They aren't the first at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to get criticized. But there is broad agreement the first children should be left alone.

RUTH MARCUS [THE WASHINGTON POST]: I thought she took off after teenage girls, not because they did anything wrong, but because she doesn't like the job that their dad is doing. And I don't think that's a very fair way to play politics.

WELKER: Now, late last night, Lauten responded to our request for comment by adding a direct apology to the Obama girls and family. Congressman Fincher did not return our request for comment.

Lauten is also a former aide for the Republican National Committee, and in a statement, RNC spokesperson Sean Spicer said he agreed that presidents' children are off-limits but also said the media coverage has been over the top, calling it "appalling."

The White House declined to comment. Matt, Savannah, back to you.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Kristen Welker, thank you very much.


CBS This Morning
12/1/14
7:36 AM ET

GAYLE KING: A congressional aide is at the center another social media controversy. A lot of people want her fired for criticizing President Obama's daughters online. Bill Plante is at the White House with the backlash and an apology that some people say is too little too late for those comments. Bill good morning.

BILL PLANTE: Well, good morning. The comment appeared Friday on Facebook and it blew up immediately proving once again I guess leaving no thought unexpressed on social media is almost always a dangerous move especially when it breaks the unwritten rule that a president's children are off limits. The White House turkey pardoning ceremony is a quaint Washington tradition and judging by the body language of 16-year-old Malia and 13-year-old Sasha --

BARACK OBAMA: Do you guys want to pet him?

MALIA OBAMA: Nah.

PLANTE: They were pretty much over it. But in this highly polarized town, even that teenage reaction got caught up in partisanship. Elizabeth Lauten, Communications Director for Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher went after the first daughters on Facebook. "Try showing a little class. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at the bar and certainly don't make faces during televised public events." The reaction to Lauten's public post was unforgiving. Historian Doug Wead wrote a book on children raised in the White House.  

DOUG WEAD: Whatever your differences with President Obama, you can't lay a glove on either the president or the first lady as parents. They've been absolutely great parents.

PLANTE: Over the years the privacy of first children is generally respected but there have been exceptions. Remember when George W. Bush's daughters Barbara and Jenna got into trouble for underage drinking when they were college students. One writer faulted the Bush's parenting skills and asked if there might be a connection to their father's past drinking problem. Chelsea Clinton's awkward teenage appearance was once a punch line in a Wayne's World sketch. Senator John McCain even joked that she looked that way because then-Attorney General Janet Reno was really her father, And Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy was criticized for reading a book during a state dinner in 1977. She was 9 years old at the time.

WEAD: The child can't really choose who their parents are and to throw this burden on them I think is universally accepted that it’s unfair.

PLANTE: Elizabeth Lauten, the author of that Facebook post about the Obama daughters, had second thoughts a few hours later. She posted an apology saying that she had judged them in a way that she would never have wanted to be judged as a teenager. The White House isn't talking. Norah?

NORAH O’DONNELL: Probably won't. Bill thank you. You know, I think it's just unfortunate, one, to criticize somebody else's kid just in general, right? Whether you're in the White House or not and then this is just part of our coarsening dialogue about treating other people with respect.

CHARLIE ROSE: And the other thing is Bill made the point about the president, or the other guy did who was a historian. This has really been really a remarkable family in terms of everything that we know about them as a family unit, not as a political unit.

KING: Right. And I love the point he made that they've been excellent parents and anybody who has met the Obama girls says that they're so normal and so great. What really gets me is that this woman is a communications director. I think she might have missed a class or two.

O’DONNELL: Yeah, yeah. It should be said, too, the Bushes were great parents too.

KING: That's right.

ROSE: Absolutely.

O’DONNELL: Great parents too.

KING: Hands off the kids.

O’DONNELL: Yes.

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