Two live turkeys gobbled at me as I walked into the White House on a brisk day in November, 2014. These turkeys were about to get pardoned by the President in what amounts to one of the strangest traditions in American history. Obama is regularly joined at the event by his two daughters, Sasha and Malia. The President's daughters seem to be private people not very comfortable in the harsh spotlight which shines on their father day-in-and-day-out.
As the three members of the First Family entered the ballroom where the pardoning would take place, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, the First Daughters are dressed pretty casually. Good for them.” However, no matter what I privately thought about the Obama daughters at the occasion, I was not going to tweet, post or print it, ever. Even someone like myself, who came into this profession with a very non-traditional journalistic background, knows the cardinal rule of decent, human reporting: Do not ridicule a politician's children.
The event proceeded normally, Obama made dad jokes, pardoned the turkey and the girls smiled along, all the while seeming like they could not wait to get out of there. Frankly, I can't blame them. I would too were I in their position. I filed some behind-the-scenes piece about the event and moved on editorially. Later that night, my Google Alerts for the turkey pardoning began blowing up. A GOP Hill staffer named Elizabeth Lauten was under attack for a Facebook post condemning the Obama daughters for their demeanor at the event. A portion of what Lauten wrote:
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. 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.
Her post quickly went viral. Media outlets around the world covered the story. It was reported on the nightly news. According to the Washington Post:
Lauten’s Facebook post was shared on Twitter and then picked up by the blogosphere. Most of the online reaction to Lauten’s comments focused on her characterization of the girls’ appearance and their facial expressions, which was especially surprising given her role as a political communication adviser. Some Twitter users accused her of racial overtones in her comments.
By Saturday evening, hundreds of people had made use of the #ElizabethLauten hashtag on Twitter.
Lauten was savaged online. Big-name media personalities called for her firing. She apologized the same day for the post but it was too late. Elizabeth Lauten was a cursed name. She had attacked the President's kids and the greater media zeitgeist was going to make sure she paid for it.
Pay she did. The Washington Post which wrote five deep-dive stories and various think pieces on the controversy, announced Lauten's resignation days later:
Embattled Hill staffer Elizabeth Lauten has resigned amid a backlash over critical remarks she posted on Facebook Friday about President Obama’s daughters.
Lauten, communications director for Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher (R-Tenn.), came under fire over the weekend after posting derogatory remarks about Sasha and Malia Obama regarding their appearance at the president’s annual Turkey pardoning.
In a city where image is everything, this is about the worst thing that can happen to a person. To this day, Lauten has found it impossible to get re-hired in the public sector. The media got its scalp and the precedent was set: Do not attack a President's children.
Fast forward to the political realities of 2017.
With daily regularity, I watch Donald Trump's children get mocked by the same class of writers, trolls and pundits who demanded human sacrifice when it happened to Obama's children. To date, Trump's youngest son Barron has:
- Been called autistic in a public video.
- Mocked for his looks at the Inauguration
- Called a “homeschool shooter”
- Accused of animal mutilation
- Called a murderer
And much more.
It is worth noting that Barron Trump is 10 years old. Malia and Sasha were 16 and 13, respectively, when Lauten answered for her inappropriate comments with her job and reputation.
The mocking of the Trump children does not end with Barron. Trump was accused of “f**king” his daughter, Ivanka, by a journalist who works at the Atlantic. Ivanka and her infant children have been verbally attacked in public by liberals who disagree with her father. Just hours ago, Ashley Judd told the Women's March that Trump has “wet dreams” about his daughter to uproarious cheers. Cheers from women who might have been justifiably outraged about Lauten's comments two years earlier.
Are these prognosticators answering for their vicious attacks on a President's children with their jobs and reputations? Are their inappropriate words the subject of think-pieces and cultural ridicule? Simple answer: No. Donald Trump certainly represents something wholly unique and challenging to our political system and the way we report on it but this does not make his children fair game.
The double standard is wrong and distressing.
Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager living in a lit-up museum house that is photographed every day by mobs of total strangers must be miserable. Being the son or daughter of a President bears immense weight. A responsibility these innocent children did not ask for. Only a cold-hearted person, lacking decency and blinded by their own vile partisanship, would attack an innocent child whose sole crime is being born to the Leader of the Free World.
Leave these kids alone, you bastards. Not because you will suffer consequences, since you know, it's Trump's family, but because it is the decent thing to do.