Civility and political decorum demand that one should never pick on a president's family. Presidents' children did not choose their parents' careers. Until they are grown and speaking out on the campaign trail, they should be left out of political commentary. Their privacy should not only be respected; it should be actively protected.
Pretty much the entire media observed this rule perfectly when Radar Online published blurry pictures of 18-year-old Malia Obama puffing some sort of cigarette at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, Illinois on July 31. Radar's eyewitness cried weed. Video footage also showed Obama dancing suggestively to a rap song.
The press refused to touch the story. Praiseworthy? Yes — if you're willing to applaud media hypocrisy.
In the middle of 2001, the media pointed at and mocked Jenna and Barbara Bush, daughters of former President George W. Bush, when they were cited for underage margarita drinking in Austin, Texas, at age 19. The New York tabloids loved it. The story was headlined ''Double Trouble'' by the New York Daily News and ''Jenna and Tonic'' by the New York Post. The networks jumped all over it, underlining that this was the public's business because the twins had entered the police blotter, and because their father is a recovered alcoholic.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer also sounded the alarm: "Police in Austin, Texas today cited President Bush's twin daughters for violating state alcoholic beverage laws. Questions about the incident remain off limits at the White House. As CNN's Anne McDermott reminds us, all first families struggle to retain a little privacy." Apparently CNN believed the Bush family should be an exception.
Even back then, there was a police-and-progeny double standard. The year before, 17-year-old Al Gore III, son of then-Vice President Al Gore, was cited by police for driving back to Washington, D.C. from the Outer Banks of North Carolina at 97 mph in a 55-mph zone. Network coverage? Zero.
Obama gets much kinder treatment than the daughters of Republican presidential candidates. Consider the liberal website Slate, which in 2012 held a caption contest for a picture of former Sen. Rick Santorum's daughters Elizabeth and Sarah (then ages 21 and 14). Sadly, liberal commenters predictably leaped to imagine that these conservative Catholic daughters — yes, including the middle schooler — were on contraceptives or wearing chastity belts or touching themselves sexually.
The daughters of former Gov. Sarah Palin have faced all kinds of media shaming and mockery, starting with Bristol Palin's pregnancy at age 17, revealed just hours after Palin was named to Sen. John McCain's ticket in 2008. Gov. Palin never achieved national office, but her family has been mocked ever since.
In 2011, television host Bill Maher mocked Bristol Palin in the crudest terms: "In Bristol's new memoir, 'Not Afraid of Life' — working title, 'Whoops, There's a Dick in Me'" — Bristol claims that the night she lost her virginity, she had accidentally gotten drunk on wine coolers that she didn't know contained alcohol, and then blacked out and didn't remember a thing. Oh, the Palins. I tell you, the s—t doesn't fall far from the bat."
Did the media decry a lack of decency? The silence was deafening. But when previously unknown GOP congressional staffer Elizabeth Lauten criticized the clothes and attitude of President Obama's daughters two years ago on her own Facebook page, saying, "Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar," the networks railed against her for "cyberbullying" until she resigned from her job.
Our news and entertainment media chieftains have made a clear distinction for presidents and presidential candidates: A child of Democratic parents is untouchable, but if it's the offspring of Republicans, he — or even better, she — is fair game. It's open season.