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Dumping on The Obamas

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It was only a matter of time before the enshrined celebrity tabloid obsession would ensnare the Obama family. They have been ripe for the pickings of a media that for the past two decades has successfully parlayed gossip, innuendo, rumor, half-truths and outright lies into a hugely profitable growth industry. New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor put the capper on the media industry's swap in kinky titillation by bagging a reported seven-figure deal to write a juicy tell all book about the president and her special target, First Lady Michelle Obama. The White House lightly pushed back against the gossipy tripe with a carefully guarded statement that blew off the book's revelations as "old news."

This won't stop the tongues from wagging about it as if the gossip from the dozens of the unnamed sources cited on the purported inner workings of the White House is the paragon of truth and accuracy. It's another case of flim-flamming the public into taking a voyeuristic look into the alleged squabbles, fights, bickering, and confusion, with a strong hint of dysfunctionality that supposedly reigns between the president, Michelle and staff members. The cover to sell the tabloid hit-job on the Obamas is that the alleged personal foibles and quirks of the Obamas in some way has some bearing on the weighty matters of politics and public policy. But that's what the book tries to do. It ridicules a Halloween party in which Michelle wore a leopard-print sweater, cat ears and sparkly eye makeup.

This supposedly is a prime example of extravagance, frivolity, and plain goofiness that supposedly goes on behind the White House doors. The proof of this is that Obama supposedly hid the party from the press and the public. They didn't. The press corps were invited, and the party was for the children of military personnel. What does this or any of the other gossipy tales about the Obamas have to do with administration policy and decision-making about job creation, deficit reduction, immigration reform, the war on terrorism, the Afghan war, the European debt crisis, environmental and labor protections, and transportation polices, is anybody's guess. But that's irrelevant anyway. The point is to tantalize the public and belittle the administration. The timing that this purported tell-all-stuff hit is no accident. It comes as the 2012 presidential campaign kicks into high gear, and this ensures that it's even more fodder for the GOP political sleaze machine oiled by right-wing bloggers, talk show hosts, and websites that delight in spewing out the litany of race baiting slurs and lies about the Obamas.

News editors, TV executives, and publishers insist that the alleged foibles and peccadilloes of celebrities, even those that wear the mantle of the presidency, and now in the case of Michelle, their wives, are fair game for exposure. They are public figures and there is no such thing as privacy when that's the case. This is bunkum. Their only interest is how high ratings can be shoved upward, and how many newspapers and books can be sold in mining journalistic muck.

News gathering is, of course, a business and it's certainly well established that sensational news, manufactured or otherwise, sells more than any other news. The rash of books on presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and most recently with Nixon, as with The Obamas, that purport to tell all about their foibles, insecurities, the behind the scenes squabbles and domestic or sexual quirks, are guaranteed to be big hits and will almost always translate into jingling cash registers at book stores, and in online sales. By contrast, a book about the inside debates and deliberations in a White House over a job or health care bill or a foreign policy issue is guaranteed to draw snores from the public and gather dust on bookstore shelves.

The only difference between The Obamas and the latest frivolities and inanities about the Kardashians is that publishers make no pretense that they are informing or educating the public about any vital public policy issue. It's just pure titillation, and industry flacks cull the most lurid and prurient quotes and anecdotes from the books and stories on them to grab a headline or a sound bite.

But that's not all. In a book that purports to tell all about the private quirks and rages of the Obamas the author and the publisher can have it both ways. They smugly climb up on their high horse and claim that the public has a right to know about a president's inner life and then turn the table and claim that the public wants to know this stuff anyway and couldn't give a hoot about substantive public policy issues.

The Obamas won't be the last book to corral a legion of unnamed alleged inside sources to spin their personal grudges and wounded slights into a juicy tangle of rumor, gossip, and exaggerations to sell a book. In the tabloid media, dumping on a celebrity, especially if that celebrity is President Obama, is standard procedure.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.

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