I’m loath to comment on the controversy surrounding Elizabeth Lauten, aka DC GOP Girl, the Republican flack who resigned from her job on Capitol Hill after posting a public rant about the Obama daughters on Facebook. As a general rule, the ubiquity of the Internet and the unforgiving viciousness of modern politics are a toxic combination that poisons the public space, leaving everyone in it one errant comment or tweet away from career death. I think that’s unfortunate. But if your professional calling is political communication, then being extremely circumspect about all public pronouncements is a big part of the job, and embarrassing your boss is—probably rightly—a fireable offense.
So let’s bracket judgment and condemnation for a moment, because I think there’s a real insight to be gained from the DC GOP Girl metastory—the saga of how Lauten’s Facebook post became “news,” rather than a passing social media controversy.
I'm pretty sure that if a communications director for a backbench Democrat had upbraided one of the Bush daughters seven or eight years ago, in a sexually suggestive way, Republicans would have pounced. Can't be positive, but I’m pretty sure. I’m just as sure that the way the story evolved would've looked different if the parties were reversed. My hunch is that, roles flipped, GOP flacks would've rolled out the fainting couches, Matt Drudge would've splashed the comments all over his homepage, Fox News would've dedicated one segment an hour to the Democratic Party’s new War on Women, and harangued the liberal media for ignoring the story until, finally, its competitors caved.
In Lauten’s case, I don't see the progressive movement as having played more than a minor role. The story made the jump directly from Twitter ("Black Twitter," specifically, which rightly viewed an attack on Sasha and Malia by a white woman through a racial prism) to the mainstream media without the DNC, say, or ThinkProgress fueling the controversy in obvious or obsessive ways. You can read that as evidence of liberal bias in the media, I guess, or as the consequence of an incredibly slow Thanksgiving news weekend. But it also just underlines the fact that the right games the media in a unique way. In a time of James O’Keefe stings and archaeological studies of Jonathan Gruber’s YouTube footprints, this all feels like the kind of manufactured melodrama that the right specializes in ginning up to harass the left. But the left’s outrage machine doesn’t gin up stories like this. They either materialize organically or they pass largely unnoticed.