Today's Wall Street Journal publishes a correction of a weekend article that asked, in all seriousness, whether Barack Obama's health is a political liability. Here was the actual header:
Too Fit to Be President?
Facing an Overweight Electorate, Barack Obama Might Find Low Body Fat a Drawback
The article was inane, reporting that Obama's "slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them." It was also a reach -- the author resorted to a chat room just to find a member of the anti-fit voting bloc. The voter's reply, "I won't vote for any beanpole guy," was reported as the recent writings of a "Clinton supporter" on a "Yahoo politics message board." Today's correction concedes that the "article should have disclosed that the reporter used the bulletin board to elicit the comment." Indeed. But why stop there? The article could have also disclosed the entire comment for some context:
Yes I think He is too skinny to be President. Hillary has a potbelly and chuckybutt I'd of Voted for Her. I won't vote for any beanpole guy.
More important, it could have disclosed the fact that this was the only on-topic reply to the reporter's query on Yahoo. That's far below average for the Yahoo election board, indicating that out of all the criticisms of Obama, fitness is not an issue. So while the posted question was stupid -- "Anyone having a hard time relating to him and his 'no excess body fat'?" -- the reporting was worse. The article should have reported that fitness elicited scant criticism online, except for one post from "onlinebeerbellygirl." (The reporter did not identify herself as a journalist when posting the question, either.)
Slate's Timothy Noah dug up the message board question, and tackled the bigger problem in a column criticizing this weird focus on Obama's physique:
When white people are invited to think about Obama's physical appearance, the principal attribute they're likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama's other physical attributes can't help coming off as a coy walk around the barn. A whole genre of humor turns on this reality. [A]n episode of the TV sitcom Happy Days ("Fonzie's New Friend") had its 1950s-era characters nervously discussing the fact that a black man in their midst was so ... skinny. Was it true that skinny people liked fried chicken? That they were good at basketball? And so on...
The sad fact is that any discussion of Obama's physical appearance is going to remind white people of the physical characteristic that's most on their minds...Better either to leave the whole topic alone -- or to address the question of racial prejudice head-on... the press would be wise to avoid discussing how ordinary Americans will respond to the size of Obama's ears, the thickness of Obama's eyebrows and so on. Is that prohibition too inhibiting? I doubt it, unless you happen to be a political cartoonist...
It doesn't help that the Journal ran a photo of Obama in a Nike sweatsuit, palming a basketball, next to shots of McCain and President George W. Bush clad in full suits. (The White House has released multiple pictures of Bush working out.) Of course, that doesn't mean the Journal is biased against black candidates. Maybe Democrats, though. The only other president featured without a suit in the graphic is Bill Clinton.
From The Washington Independent.
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