Open Season on Trump Kids

After eight-year hiatus, attacking president's children is no longer career suicide, newsworthy

Barron Trump
Barron Trump / AP
January 23, 2017

President Donald J. Trump's inauguration brought to an end the Obama era, as well as the unwritten rule that the children of politicians are off-limits.

Ashley Csanady, a political reporter from Canada's National Post, opened the festivities on Twitter less than three hours after Trump was sworn in, declaring that Trump's 10-year-old son Barron suffered from a condition that many media outlets have speculated to be sexist.

She left the tweet up for more than a day before deleting the post and apologizing.

Targeting the family members of sitting presidents had been frowned upon since the 2009 Inauguration. The most famous breach of this protocol came in November 2014 when former First Children Malia and Sasha Obama, then 16 and 13, respectively, rolled their eyes during a White House Ceremony. The teenage antics garnered plenty of notice from the press, but the incident turned sinister when a low-level GOP aide criticized the pair on Facebook and urged them to "rise to the occasion" and "try showing a little class."

The staffer was quickly rebuked by name as news outlets produced 461 news stories, analyses, and editorials between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. About a third of those posts said such language was "off-limits." The staffer issued an apology two days after her criticism went viral and resigned on Dec. 1.

The Washington Post's The Fix blog—"regarded as one of the most heavily trafficked blogs in Washington"—attempted to explain the ubiquity of the posts after Republicans speculated that political bias may have been in the mix. The blog dismissed that conclusion.

"Leaving politicians' kids out of the national conversation is one of the few boundaries that remain in politics and political journalism," the Fix said. " You can say anything you want about an adult—or damn close to it—without causing all that much controversy. But, critique kids—particularly how they dress/look/act—and you walk into a political minefield. … To have to deal with snide comments from the sidelines while also weathering [the White House] stage is out of bounds."

Ratings were another consideration. The post noted that the story had dominated cable news and that it had also done well for the Post. "Of the five most read stories on @washingtonpost, 4 of them are about" the staffer's comments, the analyses said.

Despite the allure of web traffic and the media's "reflexive defensiveness about kids being dragged into politics," Ashley Csanady has not become a household name. Neither the Washington Post, nor any other English language newspaper has mentioned the incident, which was first reported by the Daily Caller.

The prohibition against insulting the children of politicians began weakening during the presidential primaries. While Chelsea Clinton, who earned $600,000 as a special correspondent for NBC, made headlines for her generous charitable endeavors at the family foundation, Ted Cruz's daughters, then four and seven years old, were "fair game." In December 2015, a Post cartoonist depicted the children as monkeys with organ grinders and defended her work even after it was removed from the site.

The Fix blog followed up on the incident by lamenting that the Post's retraction could be beneficial for Cruz, rather than focusing on how attacking children is "out of bounds." The headline originally read "For Cruz, Post cartoon a gift that'll keep on giving," but the Post subsequently changed it after criticism from other outlets.

"[The cartoon] gives him a piece of evidence to pull out whenever he wants to argue that the loathsome 'mainstream media' doesn’t treat him—or conservatives in general—fairly," the Fix said. "Having The Post yank the cartoon allows him to look like he gets results from those predisposed against his—and his supporters'—worldview."

Foreign journalists weren't the only ones getting their digs in on a 10-year-old. Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich deleted a tweet predicting that "Barron will be this country's first homeschool shooter." That episode only garnered three mentions in the mainstream press with write-ups in Mediaite, Britain's Daily Mail, and MSN India, according to Lexis Nexis.

"On Friday, Donald Trump was sworn into the office of presidency and many Americans were not pleased with it. Katie Rich, a writer on NBC's hit sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live, took to social media to offer comic relief," the MSN video package says. "Unfortunately not everybody thought it was funny."

Update: SNL writer Katie Rich issued an apology on Twitter at 3 p.m. eastern Monday calling her joke "inexcusable." She sent the Tweet about 30 minutes before the announcement that she had been suspended from the show indefinitely. A source at SNL told Deadline that the suspension occurred "immediately" after the offending tweet.

Published under: Donald Trump