The recent furor over something Michelle Obama maybe, could have, might have said underscores not just how incredibly petty and paranoid our country has become. It's also a dangerous sign of how low so-called journalistic standards have sunk.
Obama was with her husband, the president, at events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. According to people who weren't there, couldn't possibly have heard her over the bagpipes being played, and who really have nothing else to go on but a video of the event that reveals nothing, the first lady cast a skeptical glance at the ceremony and said, "All this for a flag." She then, according to various bloggers and even columnists for substantial-sized newspapers, shook her head and got a nod of assent from her husband.
Really? Really, could anyone believe the first lady would say something so obnoxious and disrespectful—on a day when she herself chose to attend events honoring the victims and heroes of that terrible event ? The suggestion is beyond absurd, but in the era of the Internet—where anyone with a laptop is a "journalist" and all rumors are OK to write as long as the author allows people to anonymously comment on what a complete moron the writer is—the ridiculous assertion acquired what people in the newspaper business call "legs."
James S. Robbins, writing in the Washington Times, seemed to acknowledge that he couldn't really prove that Mrs. Obama said something a sensible person can't imagine any non-deranged person saying. But he opined anyway, observing:
Just for a flag? If that is what she said it is regrettable. Even with all her years being around those who hold high public office Mrs. Obama does not seem to understand the purpose and importance of ceremonies. They reaffirm the bonds of loyalty and fellowship that cement our national unity. Yes, at one level a flag is just a colorful piece of cloth. But it symbolizes much more. It is the emblem of our land and all its ideals. It has been present at every major event of any importance to the country, battles, celebrations, meetings, and the lunar landings. It is a symbol of unity that transcends party, faction and time. It is something uniquely and explicitly American. Men and women have fought and died for it. Our enemies hate us for it and burn it in the streets. All that should mean something.
"If that is what she said?" What kind of basis for an accusation is that? The logic is right up there with O.J. Simpson, cleared of murders a lot of people thought he committed, cashing in on the crime while maintaining his innocence with the book If I Did It. Except that there is absolutely no evidence of Mrs. Obama making such an outlandish statement. Has the animus become so deep that people need to make up preposterous stories about the first lady to justify their irrational hatred?
Yes, if Simpson actually got away with murder, that is "regrettable," according to Robbins' logic. But accepting some cheap and paranoid accusation—one driven more by a hateful unhappiness that either Obama is in the White House—as a debatable fact is far more regrettable. The first lady's office, even more regrettably, was forced to issue a statement denying the absurd claims. If it was the true goal of the accusers to demean the dignity of a very dignified woman, they should congratulate themselves. Mission accomplished.