Media in Frenzy Over Hill Staffer’s Comments on Obama’s Daughters

Double standards and hyped coverage criticized

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams
December 2, 2014

Five days after Elizabeth Lauten published a Facebook post criticizing the outfits worn by President Barack Obama’s daughters, the previously obscure Republican Hill staffer is being inundated with threatening messages and major media outlets are pouring resources into tracking her moves and digging into her past.

Two network news vans camped outside of Lauten’s parents home in North Carolina on Tuesday, one day after she resigned as communication director for Rep. Steven Fincher (R., Tenn.) due to the controversy. Lauten was not at the house.

That morning, the Washington Post also assigned one of its foreign affairs correspondents to comb through an archive of columns Lauten wrote for her college newspaper in 2006 and 2007. The investigation found that Lauten had supported intervention in Darfur, criticized Facebook as an invasion of privacy, and warned people against "making race an issue."

The Lauten controversy erupted on Friday, the day after the Hill aide posted a Facebook message criticizing 13-year-old Sasha Obama and 16-year-old Malia Obama for their appearances at a White House Thanksgiving press conference.

"I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re part of the First Family, try showing a little class," wrote Lauten. "Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar."

Criticism of Lauten erupted on Twitter, with many calling her post an inappropriate attack on the young girls and an example of cyberbullying. By Tuesday the news of her Facebook post had been tweeted tens of millions of times and was trending internationally.

Lauten apologized for her remarks last Friday, but the backlash continued to grow. She later made her apology statement "private" on Facebook after threatening messages were posted in the comments section.

Both ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today show devoted segments to the controversy on Sunday and Monday, according to Newsbusters. Meanwhile, the Smoking Gun reported that Lauten had been arrested for shoplifting when she was 17 years old, and photos of her drinking beer were posted on Twitter with the caption "Yes America. This is the person who told Sasha and Malia to have some class."

Lauten has also allegedly received threatening phone calls. On Twitter, dozens of users called for her to "die," "choke," and "kill yourself."

"[You’re] an internet bully of the worse kind," wrote one user. "Choke on ur thanksgiving leftovers u classless a-hole."

"How dare you speak about the First Family like that," wrote another user. "Put a gun in your mouth and kill yourself."

Some conservative public relations professionals said they were baffled by the size of the media frenzy. Others suggested there was a double-standard at work.

Brian Walsh, a former spokesperson for the National Republic Senatorial Committee, said that while children of public officials should "be off-limit to political attacks," he thought the amount of media attention devoted to the issue was "beyond absurd" and an example of a pervasive bias against Republicans.

"It would be one thing if this was a public official, but a random staffer posting a few sentences on her personal Facebook page is not a national story by any stretch and Ms. Lauten isn't the only one who should be using this experience for a little self-examination," said Walsh.

Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer blasted Lauten’s comments as "inappropriate," but added that the level of media coverage over the remarks was "appalling."

"In over 20 years in politics I have never seen 1 of the countless inappropriate comments by Democrats ever covered to a faction of this," Spicer tweeted.

On Monday, the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis drew parallels between the Lauten controversy and an incident last year involving a corporate PR executive named Justine Sacco, who lost her job after she tweeted an insensitive joke about race and AIDS in Africa. The Twitter comment was picked up internationally while Sacco was on a flight to South Africa and unable to respond or apologize.