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On (The Lack Of) Journalistic Ethics At The Daily Caller

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Yesterday afternoon, The Daily Caller’s Ford Springer published a piece called ”It’s High Time Barron Trump Starts Dressing Like He’s In the White House,” in which he criticized the President’s son, who is all of eleven years old, for the manner in which he has dressed since moving to the White House in June. The specific instance that appears to have set Springer off occurred on Sunday when the First Family was returning from the President’s three-week stay in New Jersey while the White House’s West Wing was being renovated. Much like any other boy his age would be, the youngest Trump sibling was wearing a red t-shirt and khaki shorts. Mind you, this was basically a trip back home from summer vacation, not some official White House event and the only reason we know about it is that it was caught on camera by the White House pool photographer covering the Trump’s return to the White House. The lack of formality of the event apparently wasn’t sufficient for Springer  who asserted that, ”I’ve been on the Barron Trump train from the start, but it’s about time the president’s son starts dressing the part” and “ looked like he was hopping on Air Force One for a trip to the movie theater.” Ironically, the Daily Caller piece also carried a link to a piece written in July of this year by Megan Walsh titled “11 Photos That Prove That Barron Trump Is A Normal 11 Year Old.

Not surprisingly, the reaction in the comment thread to the piece was overwhelmingly negative, and that negative response carried over to social media, including perhaps the most pertinent response coming from Chelsea Clinton, who of course entered the White House at roughly the same age as Barron when her father was elected President in 1992:

Clinton had a similar response on Facebook when a Saturday Night Live writer made several jokes about Barron’s appearance during the Inauguration in January:

This isn’t the first time in recent years that the minor children of a sitting President have come under attack by journalists or pundits in politics for entirely trivial reasons. Three years ago, Republican Congressional Aide Elizabeth Lauten was forced to resign after she attacked Malia and Sasha Obama for allegedly showing a ‘lack of class’ during their appearance while their father spoke at the annual White House “turkey pardoning,” an event that by then they had witnessed five other times since Obama was elected. Lauten was heavily criticized for her comments and, after apparently changing the privacy setting on her Facebook account so that the comment was not publicly viewable, resigned her position and basically went into hiding over what quickly became widespread bipartisan condemnation for an attack on the minor children of a politician. While the attention of the media yesterday was largely focused on stories ranging from the continuing reaction to President Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville, the solar eclipse that occurred yesterday afternoon across the United States, and the President’s then upcoming speech on Afghanistan, there was plenty of negative reaction to Springer’s piece from journalists and pundits alike.

Springer, who refers to himself as the “Sports and Entertainment Reporter” for The Daily Caller, has not addressed the controversy either on his Twitter feed or, as far as I can tell, anywhere else on social media. Paul Conner, the website’s Executive Editor, however, has responded and apparently doesn’t see what the big deal is:

As I noted during the Lauten controversy, there used to be a rule in politics and journalism that the children of politicians were off limits, especially when those children were underage and, especially, if they were entering the tween and teenage years, which are already emotion-laden enough without having some anonymous jerk in the media using you as a target to either criticize your parents or score clicks on their website. In earlier times, this was a rule that journalists and pundits seemed to know to follow without being reminded by White House officials or media critics. It’s because of this that the children of Presidents from Eisenhower and Kennedy to Nixon, Ford, and Carter were largely left alone to be normal children and teenagers who just happened to be growing up notwithstanding the media bubble that surrounded their respective fathers wherever they went. To the extent they shown in the media, it was during benign appearances of the First Family like the lighting of the White House Christmas tree and other similar events, or when the President and First Lady would otherwise allow the press to take photographs of their kids. When some members of the media did cross the line, they were roundly criticized. For example, when Rush Limbaugh made a joke at the expense of Chelsea Clinton that he contends to this day was just a “mistake,” he was mercilessly criticized. Similarly, reporters who attempted to follow the twin daughters of George and Barbara Bush around campus while they were in Congress were criticized for crossing the line. Fortunately, with the exception of Lauten’s Facebook post, the Obama girls were largely left alone by the media and the same has been true so far for Barron Trump, at least until Springer decided to post his inane column, apparently with the approval of the editors at The Daily Caller.

This is hardly the biggest story in the country, of course, and it certainly wasn’t the most important story yesterday. However, that doesn’t make it right. Springer crossed a line that journalists covering the White House should not cross and The Daily Caller should not have allowed it to be published. In addition to being inane and stupid, it’s quite simply cruel to attack a child because they happen to be in the public eye. Barron Trump dressed like a normal 11-year-old was dressed like a normal 11-year-old returning from vacation, and there was no need for Starling’s idiotic screed. Does he deserve to be fired over it the way that Lauten was? That’s not really my call to make and I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other. At the very least, though, it’s clear he should have never hit “Post” on the column, and that Conner and his other editors at the site should not have allowed it to appear. The fact that they did is a fairly apt demonstration of the fact that The Daily Caller cares more about clicks than it does about ethics.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    This was breathtakingly, mindbogglingly stupid. I bow to no one in my contempt for Barron’s father, but really…given all the stories worth writing yesterday, was some kid in shorts and a t-shirt one of them?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  2. teve tory says:

    Tucker Carlson’s been scum for as long as there’s been a tucker carlson. Remember who provoked jon stewart’s crossfire rant? He did.

    Fox News, Daily Caller delete posts encouraging people to drive through protests

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. Franklin says:

    Tucker also just said that Trump staring directly at the sun was like the best thing any President has ever done. He and his shitty news site may be mildly amusing in an unintentional way, but it’s nothing worth spending my time on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. wr says:

    Leave Barron alone. He seems to be the only member of his family who is neither a criminal nor a traitor.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  5. al-Ameda says:

    @Franklin:

    Tucker also just said that Trump staring directly at the sun was like the best thing any President has ever done. He and his shitty news site may be mildly amusing in an unintentional way, but it’s nothing worth spending my time on.

    No disrespect intended but, Tucker should be a pinata at a State Fair.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    The only thing I noticed about Barron is that he’s really had a growth spurt from a year ago. Kid’s got to be at least 6 inches taller than he was at the Republican convention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. Jen says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: I had the same reaction–he is 11 years old and almost as tall as his dad! That is a heck of a growth spurt, wow.

    On the publication of any criticism of his clothing, honestly I cannot fathom how a piece like that even got published. What a tacky, utterly classless thing to do. It’s hardly big news, but it is a big deal. How hard is this? Leave the (minor, not involved in policy) kids out of it. Always. For any president, any administration. He’s a *child*.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  8. Terrye Cravens says:

    Tacky, but I don’t really care either. However, it should be a rule to leave the kids and old people alone. Any decent person knows that. But this was just stupid more than mean.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. DrDaveT says:

    This doesn’t rise to the level of “journalistic ethics” — this is just a basic lack of professionalism. The editor who let this through is just as culpable as the (hack) writer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. SenyorDave says:

    @Terrye Cravens: But this was just stupid more than mean.

    When it involves Tucker Carlson, I’ll take mean and stupid. Here’s a prime example of Carlson’s “work” (and you know you must be a hack if the NY Post criticizes you for being stupid and nasty, they practically invented it.

    http://nypost.com/2015/03/29/carlson-brothers-ugly-behavior-wont-help-right/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Tucker Carlson is a douchecanoe, but to be fair I don’t think he is involved with day-to-day operations at The Daily Caller now that he’s at Fox News Channel. He may retain an ownership interest of some kind, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. teve tory says:

    Tucker left in late November 2016, and the ‘run-over-protesters’ video was published in Jan 2017, so I’m just going to blame him for creating that culture over the 7 years he was there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Anonne says:

    A lot of web publications these days are not actually edited, they are glorified blogs. You can tell by the typo-ridden messes that sometimes occur that no one other than the author actually laid eyes on the piece before publishing, and that’s probably because they are looking to get a scoop and get the thing online before anyone else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. CSK says:

    @Anonne:

    This is true. I wonder what the people who call themselves editors think their function is?

    Another thing is that a lot of these sites are run on a shoestring–if they have any any money at all, so they’re not attracting the top writing and editing talent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Argon says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Tucker Carlson is a douchecanoe, but to be fair I don’t think he is involved with day-to-day operations at The Daily Caller now that he’s at Fox News Channel.

    Douchecanoes hire douchecanoes. It’s all based on quotas and affirmative action carve-outs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    “He looked at the sun without any glasses. Perhaps the most impressive thing any president has done.”

    Douchecanoe doesn’t cover it.
    Seriously…why do these people continue to have an outlet?
    I mean if a grown man can’t think of anything any President has done that’s more impressive than risking your eyesight doing something an 8 year old knows not to do then it’s clear why Trump has a base.
    So phucking stupid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. Gustopher says:

    Barron isn’t just an 11 year old boy, he is also the President’s advisor on technology…

    Seriously though, if the President can wear those awful ill fitting suits, and those truly horrific golf outfits (the only people who look good in a polo shirt are the people who look great wearing anything else… polo shirts are an abomination), then everyone else can do whatever they want fashion wise, kid or not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. MarkedMan says:

    This focus on things that are in decency should not be part of the public conversation is one of the areas that “Both sides do it” applies. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen left wing commentators comment on Steve Bannon’s looks. I may have even done it myself, and if so I was wrong.

    In general, I think that the children of political figures are only fair game when they are actively representing their parent in a political fashion. Chelsea Clinton campaigning for her mother and articulating her mother’s policy viewpoints is no more or less a target than, say, a Democratic state senator doing the same thing. Fifteen year old Chelsea Clinton appearing in a photo op at the easter egg roll should be at most, a fluff mention in a general article about how “a good time was had by all”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. MarkedMan says:

    This focus on things that are in decency should not be part of the public conversation is one of the areas that “Both sides do it” applies. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen left wing commentators comment on Steve Bannon’s looks. I may have even done it myself, and if so I was wrong.

    In general, I think that the children of political figures are only fair game when they are actively representing their parent in a political fashion. Chelsea Clinton campaigning for her mother and articulating her mother’s policy viewpoints is no more or less a target than, say, a Democratic state senator doing the same thing. Fifteen year old Chelsea Clinton appearing in a photo op at the easter egg roll should be at most, a fluff mention in a general article about how “a good time was had by all”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Franklin says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: I bet our bow-tied douchecanoe is *really* impressed with some of the stuff that Putin’s done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Mikey says:

    @MarkedMan: So then it’s wrong to point out he looks like a moldy chunk of Spam with a face drawn on it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen left wing commentators comment on Steve Bannon’s looks. I may have even done it myself, and if so I was wrong.

    To be fair, Steve Bannon’s look is remarkably consistent with signs that are usually associated with substance abuse, specifically alcoholism. Man looks like 20 miles of rough road on a good day and for the general population, that’s usually when the question “Are you OK?” gets asked and interventions start getting planned. It’s also weird considering Trump’s stated preference for polished looks in the White House that someone so slovenly was allowed to stay that way.

    He wasn’t born looking like that – he chooses to and it’s indicative of his state of mind. We’re not calling him ugly but we are pointing out dude’s probably got some issues he’s wearing on his sleeve.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @wr:

    Leave Barron alone. He seems to be the only member of his family who is neither a criminal nor a traitor.

    But he’s a Trump so it’s obvious he’ll become a criminal and a traitor, like the rest of them. He should be harassed and fired from his job as First Son (Second Son? Second First Son?)
    (Snark aimed at earlier free speech/Nazis thread.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. teve tory says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Chelsea Clinton campaigning for her mother and articulating her mother’s policy viewpoints is no more or less a target than, say, a Democratic state senator doing the same thing. Fifteen year old Chelsea Clinton appearing in a photo op at the easter egg roll should be at most, a fluff mention in a general article about how “a good time was had by all”

    When Rush Limbaugh made fun of Chelsea Clinton’s looks, she was 13 years old.

    The right-wing has been deplorable for a long time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Mikey: Have to admit, the resemblance to Bannon is striking. He really hit on something.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Monala says:

    @wr: I’m inclined to leave Tiffany alone as well for the same reason. She seems to have distanced herself from the rest of the clan as much as she can without outright disowning them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Monala says:

    @MarkedMan: It seems that former first kids really try to protect current first kids, because they understand the pain of the scrutiny and criticisms they often receive. The Bush twins stuck up for the Obama girls several times for similar reasons.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    Remember who provoked jon stewart’s crossfire rant? He did.

    Stewart’s smackdown of Carlson in 2004 (which more or less singlehandedly caused the show to be canceled–for a time) was always one of the most awesome things I ever saw.

    That said, while I was never a fan of Carlson, I admit I never imagined he’d one day emerge as pretty much an outright white nationalist. Remember, this was a show on which one of the original co-hosts was Pat Buchanan. Carlson at the time struck me as a relatively more “normal” conservative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Gustopher:
    Dude…I’m sitting here in a polo-shirt…crushed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Until Trump interjects his son into the discussion…then the kid is off-limits as far as I’m concerned.
    The Obama’s did a great job keeping their daughters out of the discussion.
    Sarah Palin expected to be able to both use her kids to advance her cause, and to have them off-limits. Doesn’t work that way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. JohnMcC says:

    The author of that piece should read up on the Theodore Roosevelt family occupation of the White House. The time the children smuggled a pony into the living quarters upstairs is not the funniest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Bob The Arquebusier says:

    Oh, yes, the low-level Congressional aide who said something critical of Obama’s daughters. I recall the press coverage — they even did live shots from her home until she resigned.

    Funny, I don’t recall anywhere near that level of outrage when Rosie O’Donnell and a bunch of others all speculated that Barron Trump might be autistic. Did I miss it?

    So, what’s the real story here? Why must the Daily Caller be brought down?

    My hunch is because they’re the only people doing real journalism on the House Democrats IT scandal. They’re the only ones who aren’t treating the story with the Dave Burge approach (“Journalism is about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving.”)

    It’s a hell of a story. A family of Pakistani immigrants running a host of fraudulent enterprises, including scamming a ton of money and high tech from House Democrats, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, having access to members’ highly classified information, then (most of them) skipping out of the country (most of them) with the loot, with House Democrats providing them cover.

    This would be getting wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage if it was Republicans caught up in it, but since it’s Democrats, the main objective is to take down the only publication that’s giving it the attention it deserves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  33. Bob The Arquebusier says:

    Another reason The Daily Caller needs to be shut down is that they’re also pretty much the only people covering the Fusion GPS story. For those who’ve kept themselves willfully ignorant, they’re the people who commissioned the bogus “pee-pee dossier” and are at the center of the “Russian collusion” farce — they’re the ones Russia hired to try to arrange those meetings with Trump’s people, among a host of other moves to damage Trump.

    So many juicy stories that just can’t be touched because they might make Democrats look bad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3