Politico, and other US media give themselves black eye with “heelsgate”

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

In a tweet they have now deleted, Politico claimed “there was no acknowledgement from the White House that the first lady’s storm attire was at all off-key.” They showed an image of Melania Trump walking through grass with black shoes. The article argued: “The emblematic first image of the first lady heading off to visit a hurricane in heels — a moment that the president has seized on as an opportunity to project strength and show off decisive leadership — instead became another symbol of a White House that can often seem out of touch.” The piece was written by White House reporter Annie Karni.

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The Daily Beast also headlined a piece “Melania’s Stilettos, Donald’s Khakis: The Trump’s are indoor people.” The article claimed “When they left Washington, the President and First Lady were dressed like two people who have never gotten dirty in their lives. Living avatars of city softness. Indoor kids. When she left Washington, Melania Trump was wearing a silk bomber jacket and sky-high spike heels that could only be useful in a flooding emergency if they’re removed and used to bash in Houston windows in search of trapped people and animals.” It was written by senior editor Erin Gloria Ryan.

The Washington Post claimed “there was no pretense about Melania Trump’s heels, but sometimes a little pretense helps.” Venessa Friedman at The New York Times also covered “Melania Trump, off to Texas, finds herself on thin heels.” The piece claimed, ” When is a shoe not just a shoe? When it is a pair of very high, needle-thin heels worn by the first lady of the United States on her way to the site of a natural disaster. Then it becomes a symbol for what many see as the disconnect between the Trump administration and reality.” The New York Post covered “heelsgate” as well, looking at Melania getting on the plane and then off the plane. “First lady Melania Trump ditched her stilettos and changed into white sneakers for her and President Trump’s tour of hurricane-ravaged Texas.” Jaclyn Reiss and Christina Prignano at The Boston Globe urged some calm in the situation. “Everyone calm down: Melania Trump is not wearing mile-high stilettos in a disaster zone. The first lady and wife of President Donald Trump drew some criticism Tuesday morning as she was spotted boarding Marine One and then Air Force One in sky-high heels, about to take off to Texas to survey the damage caused by Tropical Storm Harvey.”

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The twitter reaction to the avalanche of media coverage of the heels, and the misleading attention paid to them, since it turned out that Melania actually took them off on the plane, was largely negative. While the major media claimed they had covered this story because of social media criticism, the reality was that US media largely gave itself a black eye, sending seasoned reporters and senior editors to write long articles about heels in articles that not only remind us of sexism but also how media had come to reflect the entertainment-reality-TV of the the administration.

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“Completely ridiculous, she can wear what she wants,” one woman tweeted. Amy Siskind, President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, in a series of tweets critiqued the media coverage. “And we wonder why women are judged on how they look and how they dress. Seriously folks!” Also; “do you think those folks care about the shoes she wore at the WH? They care that she got . on the plane and showed up is my guess.” Elizabeth Holmes at the Wall Street Journal mocked Vogue for critiquing the heels. “Even Vogue, oft proponent of the wildly impractical, is not here for Melania’s stilettos.” Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media, also wondered “Oh for God’s sake, she has sneakers in her bag. Who the hell cares?” Many reactions to the media hype ran along these lines “Who the hell cares? I can criticize them for a lot but this is not one of them. This entire story is ridiculous,” tweeted Dana H.

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In the Trump era the US media has become a kind of caricature of Trump’s own blathering on Twitter and hyperbolic, offensive, comments. It’s like a bizarre version of Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Trump has taken the US Presidency to new levels of vulgarity at times and received unmitigated opprobium for it. On issues like his waffling about racism at the Charlottesville clashes, there is substance to the criticism. But the obsessive media interest in Trump, and need to find something wrong, leads to decision to focus on things like heels, when they should be focusing on hard news.

To excuse the obsession with a few seconds of Melania walking in heels, some have pointed out the criticism Obama weathered when he wore a tan suit. That’s a fair point, but the idea that “they did it too,” doesn’t really excuse why serious media that is ostensibly in the center and trustworthy with high minded slogans such as “democracy dies in darkness,” wastes space on being fashion police.

The public seems to think that things have gone to far. This is especially true when they find out they are being misled by reporters who write whole articles about someone getting on a plane in heels to “tour a disaster area” but then forget to do basic journalistic work of seeing if she wore the heels when she got off the plane.

Politico apparently felt their original tweet was problematic and deleted it. They then tweeted “before and after: FLOTUS changes from stilettos to sneakers for presidential trip to Texas.” It still leaves one wondering, why did they invest such effort in writing about shoes. Shouldn’t a democracy expect more from its media?

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