The who-cares story of the dayJune 7, 2009 9:50 AM EDT ››› JAMISON FOSER
The Washington Post's Robin Givhan manages to write an entire column about the fact that King Abdullah gave President Obama the "King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit" -- Saudi Arabia's highest honor. Givhan:
[O]ne of the rules in politics is never be photographed wearing hats, costumes or a national dress other than one's own. The resulting photographs are easy fodder for any would-be comedian, and they also don't do much to help one's swagger. Added to that list of things-not-to-wear should be large gold necklaces adorned with medallions the size of an espresso saucer.
From there, Givhan went on to (repeatedly) compare the "theatrically large necklace" to something a "rap star" or "the occasional goodfella" would wear. The whole thing is premised on the idea that it's somehow damaging to Obama to have to accept such a gift; that "the Western public" is taken aback by seeing its president wearing something "championed by the aesthetically challenged Flavor Flav."
All of which is, I suspect, a crock. I don't think actual people - those who don't work in the news media - really give a damn about Barack Obama briefly wearing a necklace, any more than they give a damn if he eats arugula or orders orange juice in a diner.
Givhan pretends that the "problem" here - though it really isn't clear that there is a problem - is systemic:
The problem with diplomatic gift-giving is that it has nothing to do with the recipient and everything to do with the giver. That contrasts sharply with the world of regular people, in which most gifting begins with a few simple questions: What would make the recipients happy? What might they need? What would hold symbolic value for them?
The problem with media coverage of diplomatic gift-giving is that it contrasts sharply with the world of regular people, who understand that life sometimes involves receiving gifts, particularly clothing, that you would not choose for yourself, and accepting them graciously rather than making the gift-giver feel badly.
And that, ultimately, is the problem with Givhan's piece, as with the media-invented notion that the public will be appalled at a political figure who eats salad greens other than iceburg lettuce and orders something other than coffee in a diner: The American people are far more sophisticated than the media think they are. They don't take this trivia nearly as seriously as reporters do. They understand the world better. They understand that there is nothing embarrassing about receiving a gift you might not pick out for yourself.
P.S.: Givhan includes a shot at Obama for giving the Queen of England an iPod, which is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. The media (prodded on by conservatives) seemed to think that was a grave misstep that made Obama look like an unsophisticated rube. The public, on the other hand, didn't really care. Get over the damn iPod.