Batten down the hatches, everybody!
Here’s what happened. We’ve got the presidential inauguration dinner going on out there in Washington, right? And we’ve got this video stream of high-powered dignitaries at the table. Get this. President Barack Obama is sitting at the table, and two seats down is Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, and seated between the two of them is the first lady, Michelle Obama, whose apparently enjoying dinner. Boehner and Barack Obama seem to be engaged in a friendly conversation when, suddenly, Michelle Obama rolls her eyes! Don’t believe me? Check this out!
I saw that, too! Can you imagine such a thing? What was that about?
I’ve got my theory. It’s our old buddy the wag-dogger checking in again. What we have here is the emergence of a wag-dogger sub-genre, for which I haven’t come up with a name yet. It’s a specific type of wag-dogger where the media tries to create a stream of news by starting a fight.
Here’s a step-by-step process on how this type of wag-dogger works:
1) Start a fight.
The opportunity for a nice fight can rest anywhere. It could be an unguarded comment. It could be a seemingly innocuous facial expression, such as what video clips captured of Mrs. Obama. Or it could be imbedded in a larger news event (The recent Sandy Hook massacre is the gift that keeps on giving where this sort of thing is concerned. Who says you have to have standards, precepts, or morals?). If it’s a passing observation or slight criticism, you can call it a “slam”. The “slam” thing gets a lot of mileage in the sports and entertainment stories. So, once the fuse is burning on the bundle of dynamite, you move on to Step 2, which is:
2) Report on the fight.
As a modern journalist, or a company of them, you would be remiss in your duty not to report on a good conflict going on. In the case of Eyerollgate, the hope is that the partisan media would take over. This is where the tighty-righties supposedly say, “So what’s that uppity, snobby, elitist hag rolling her eyeballs all dismissively at Boehner about?” And then the yellow-bed lefties pick up on that and respond in kind: “A hilariously merciless attack on the First Lady!” Of course, the momentum works the other way, too, with the lefties saying, “Why is Boehner aggravating the First Lady with his cigarette-breathed rhetoric while she’s trying to enjoy her dinner?”, and the righties responding, “My friends, is there any greater example of liberal overreaction than this?” By that time the political benches clear, and the peripheral comments are flying this way and that.
3) Report on the breakaway spin-off fights and keep fanning.
Other elected officials comment on Eyerollgate, and then the opposing sides respond with their ever-so-predictable hyper-reactionism. This is right about where the various media outlets are expected to fan the dying embers of the conflict by attaching it to peripheral issues. “And coming up later: Does Eyerollgate symbolize the deep gulf in the debt ceiling debate? Two experts will join us after the break to analyze the fallout.” Fallout? Or how about this?: “Eyerollgate and the Fiscal Cliff agreement: Still some hard feelings evident at the inaugural dinner?”
4) Start over somewhere else
At some point, Eyerollgate dies, because just about every wag-dogger news item has a finite lifespan. It’s the circle of life in the journalism world: Eventually, the saturation bug overwhelms the public, and the media looks for a new fight to start. So the story dies, but the process lives on, in some new perceived sleight, some new potential call to protest, or some new vogue cause. It’ll emerge like this: “From unread blog to eye of the hurricane: How one website has enraged everyone with its amateur attempt at pedantic insight!”
I would wrap up this wag-dogger dissertation with a closing statement about how Eyerollgate spotlights the media’s urge to pander to the primal instinct in humans by kicking up conflict as a way to drum up business for themselves, but I’m told by my advisory staff that there’s some sort of major shit storm brewing out front that we’re going to have to deal with. People with picket signs are collecting outside our jobsite trailer of a central office, and some pipe-wielding goons are now jumping up-and-down on the hitch. Great. As if there weren’t enough coffee stains on the break table.