So it was interesting – in a slow down and get a good look at the media wreck by the side of the highway kind of way – watching the Malia-Obama-Goes-to-Mexico story getting scrubbed off newspaper sites the other day. My daughter was actually surfing the intertubules that afternoon, noticed how the story was there and gone again, in the blink of an eye: ‘Hey, there’s another Obama vay-cay, how many weeks since the last one? Whoops!’ Quite honestly, we had never seen the like; a news story appearing and disappearing like that, and I thought at first that maybe a couple of newspapers had fallen for a fake story and then withdrawn it almost at once. But no … it was was a genuine story, and massively-withdrawn almost as soon as it was posted here, there and almost everywhere. Never mind about the wisdom of a middle-school field trip to Mexico, at a time when civil order in the place is practically melting down. Never mind the irresponsibility of letting your child go on that trip, although I’ll bet there was a significant amount of whining involved. “Mooo-o-o-mmm! Daaaaaaddy! All my friends are going to Oaxaca, why can’t I?” Never mind the optics of yet another splashy ghetto-fabulous Obama family excursion at a time when gas is closing in on $5.00 a gallon, and their last splashy family holiday was just a month ago. Nope, I’ll leave Obama family dynamics strictly alone, although my daughter notices that lately the oldest Obama princess does look increasingly sullen when caught in un-posed random pictures.
No, what worries me more is the very concept of the disappearing-at-the-request-of-the-White-House aspect of it. I can easily understand keeping a subterranean profile; tight media black-out, utmost discretion on the part of everyone involved, to the point of keeping Malia Obama’s presence on the trip to a need-to-know basis only … but walking back on the story when it is already out there? Requesting that a whole range of on-line media outlets memory-hole a news story within minutes of posting? Shades of Stalinists air-brushing suddenly-disgraced public figures out of archives and the encyclopedia. Here I thought that Orwell’s 1984 was merely dystopian fiction, not a bloody how-to manual, but obviously I have been misinformed. This was a clumsy effort, no doubt about it; enough people like my daughter noticed, and noticed enough to make at least a medium-sized kerfuffle about it. Increasingly, this administration is gaining notoriety in libertarian-small-government-conservo-Tea-Party circle for clumsy kerfuffles, which is a good thing, obviously, if they kerfuffle themselves right out of the White House.
To me, it’s just another big fat reason to hold the legacy media establishment in contempt. Maybe they weren’t ever all fearless, dedicated Ed Murrow types, and they’ve been coasting on reputation ever since Watergate, but after a long list of accidents and incidents – the affair of the Danish Motoons o’Doom, Dan Rather and the fraudulent TANG memo, CNN pulling their journalistic punches to maintain a bureau in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein, the Journo-Listers agreeing privately to slant the news and editorials, the White House press corps functioning more as the administration’s public affairs office … I shouldn’t really have been that surprised to see that the newsmaking machinery can be manipulated after the fact of publication as well as before. I just didn’t think they would be that blatant about it.
Which brings up the uncomfortable thought – how often has a story been effectively memory-holed in the mainstream American and British press … without anyone taking notice at all?