Great news! Our long national Elizabeth Lauten nightmare is over. She’s out of a job, after tendering the sort of “resignations” that would usually be accompanied by an expressed desire to spend more time with her family. Don’t you feel better now?
Who’s Elizabeth Lauten, you ask? You must not have been following the mainstream media over the weekend, because they thought she was a very big deal. Until now, she was the comms director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN). Don’t you dare ask, “Who’s Stephen Fincher?” I just told you. It’s right there in between the parentheses. The “R” is the most significant of the three letters contained therein.
Here’s the story of Lauten’s brief and unhappy moment in the national spotlight, as related by CNN – the network that still employs an anchor who giggled with glee over the tape of Sarah Palin’s daughter reporting her assault to a police officer, pronouncing it the most entertaining audio her network ever aired:
[Lauten] faced heavy backlash when she wrote a Thanksgiving-Day screed against the Obama daughters, as well as the President and first lady, on Facebook that quickly went viral across the web. In it, she scolded Malia and Sasha Obama, 16 and 13 years old, respectively, for what she said was their inappropriate outfits and their bored looks during Wednesday’s turkey pardoning ceremony, which they attended alongside their father.
“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. At least respect the part you play,” Lauten wrote in the post.
“Then again, your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter,” she added. “So I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.”
Lauten went on to tell them to “stretch yourself…rise to the occasion” and “act like being in the White House matters to you.”
“Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised, public events,” she concluded.
I don’t pay much attention to the annual turkey pardon, under Presidents of either party, but I gather a lot of people disagreed with this characterization of the Obama daughters’ dress and deportment. Which is fine, but somehow disagreement turned into destruction with lightning speed, resulting in a wildly disproportionate level of coverage – it was the lead story on some news programs this morning!
When Jonathan Gruber, the architect of ObamaCare, was caught on tape admitting to the massive fraud necessary to shove the program through Congress, it was scarcely treated as news by Big Media (although Jake Tapper at CNN was a notable exception.) When President Obama straight-up lied to the American people about his association with Gruber, the media yawned and relayed the lies with little objection or criticism, essentially taking the attitude that it was a non-story because everyone knew Obama was lying out of obvious political necessity.
But a staffer for a Republican member of Congress says something critical of the Royal Family, and look out – it’s an instant four-alarm fire, complete with an Internet flash mob – the laziest form of pressure ever invented – and a head swiftly rolls. Lauten was gone in a fraction of the time it took to cashier VA Secretary Eric Shinseki after the worst scandal ever, in a messy department where that’s a fairly high bar to clear, despite a far louder outcry from more serious people than the insta-critics that took Lauten down over a Facebook post. And it wasn’t an inherently outrageous or profane post, either.
I can’t tell if the official Big Media action line is that she deserved instant career electrocution for daring to say something critical of the Obama daughters, or because of that crack about how Mr. and Mrs. Obama “don’t respect their positions very much or the nation for that matter.” Something tells me the latter probably stuck in a lot of craws more than the former, but the old Beltway chestnut about how presidential children are totally off-limits is a sturdier excuse for putting someone on the unemployment lines.. (If you can remember how the media didn’t seem entirely devoted to that principle during the latter Bush years, your memory is too long.) The President and his staff routinely describe their political opponents in far harsher terms than Lauten’s crack about the Obamas disrespecting their positions; in fact, we’re in the midst of an immigration argument in which Obama’s adversaries are depicted as racist xenophobes.
It’s interesting that no one seemed interested in giving Lauten a chance to “clarify” her remarks. Clarification is a scarce resource allocated almost entirely on a partisan basis. You’ll never see a Democrat called out after one strike, nor will you ever see a Republican given three. Lauten did apologize – “When I first posted on Facebook, I reacted to an article and I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager” – but her career turkey was already deep-fried to a crisp.
It could be said that Lauten needed to write more carefully, even on her personal Facebook page, because even her “off the record” social media presence reflected on her boss – a standard that certainly hasn’t been applied evenly to every staffer in Washington, but you’re bound to hear that case made when a scalp is claimed. The last few years have seen people who had high-profile but non-political jobs wiped out because they said something online that drew an angry crowd, most spectacularly a corporate communications director named Justine Sacco, who issued what was perceived as an insensitive Tweet to her modest audience of followers while boarding a plane to Africa, became an international outrage fetish while in flight, and was out of a job when she landed. Sacco’s firing was also explained by citing the potential damage to her employers’ reputation from her personal online messaging.
We’ve also seen sinister flash mobs go after pop-up outrage targets like Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, not because of anything he said or did today, but because of a political donation made years ago. It’s quick and easy to be part of an outrage swarm. The cost in terms of time spent is virtually zero, the consequences for unreasonably hounding someone are negligible – unsuccessful outrage swarms end with nothing but a brief sense of mild disappointment, followed by a stampede to the next exciting target – and success makes for briefly entertaining blood sport.
One of the reasons I fear for the political future of free speech is that it’s no longer a cultural value. When someone gets hounded out of a job for allegedly offensive speech, we’re told it’s nothing to worry about from a First Amendment standpoint, because it wasn’t “censorship,” the government prosecuting someone for exercising their free-speech rights; it was an employer succumbing to public pressure and terminating a business relationship. True, but the esteem we hold for values such as free speech is reflected in our conduct, and government power reflects that conduct in turn. The more comfortable people get with dropping heavy consequences upon those who speak out of turn, the more comfortable they’ll become with the government regulation of speech. If freelance vigilante censorship is vigorous enough, one hardly even needs the unconstitutional government variety. Free speech can be taken from a society, or it can be thrown away… but either way, it’s gone.
What was so impossibly difficult about answering Lauten’s speech with more speech and explaining why she was wrong? One of the scandals bubbling in Washington has to do with the wanton abuse of administrative leave. It’s almost impossible to fire even the most inept or abusive bureaucrat; their “punishment” is paid vacation, which can last for months or even years. It’s one of the many Big Government outrages that doesn’t get much attention outside of “alternative media.” But say a bad word about the MSM’s beloved Royal Family and your career gets instantly burned to a crisp by a white-hot news spotlight?
Update: In the interests of full disclosure, I feel obliged to add that if I were to attend a lengthy White House turkey-pardoning ceremony – either as a teenager or today – the chances of snapping a few photos in which I looked less than completely enthralled by the proceedings would be extremely high.