Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The First Lady at Tuskegee University Commencement and Media Uproar

The fact that Mrs. Michelle Robinson Obama chose to expose private experiences of racism at Tuskegee University gave some people in the media opportunity to feature yet another incorrect, selective impression of what was really said; so-called Right-wing, Conservative, Moderate, Liberal, and Left-wing media outlets faced choices about how or whether to take the opportunity to quibble with each other over the week-end.

The First Lady is, one would deduce from reports of her remarks about race in the address, either a very angry woman who narrowly interprets every perceived non-black imposition upon her, or she is a woman who chose to share her pain with an audience with which she identified.

Before writing what I intended to be a post about "an angry First Lady," I read the full prepared text online. Her personal examples, whether her memory enlarged them or served her accurately, were a small portion of an inspiring and thoughtful speech that drew on one of many sources of Tuskegee University pride--the determined and skilled Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.

From  reading history and memory, I know that First Ladies have attracted journalistic attention--Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were generally admired by their observers, although I recall reading somewhere that Martha was criticized for having some "means--or 'independent means'--of her own." Stories of Mrs. Lincolns' real or invented flaws and weaknesses abounded in her days as First Lady, regarding every personal tragedy she and her husband suffered.

I remember the ridiculing fun made of Lady Bird Johnson's "beautification program," responsible for the beauty along national highways across the country today. I recall hateful reports about Pat Nixon (and shameful for major newspapers that published them) during the last weeks of her husband's presidency. Then followed, after President Carter's term, revulsion expressed toward Nancy Reagan's formal gowns, her "Just say 'No!'" (to drugs) campaign, and her donor-supported  replacement of chipped White House dinner china (likely in use today), among other "failings."

Jackie Kennedy's White House restoration project and her expensive Paris-inspired clothes, then Rosalyn Carter's focus on mental health programs and Laura Bush's original "Books on the Mall"--these largely escaped the customary inane criticisms by First Lady-watchers.

I assume that Michelle Obama knew this historical perspective and more before she took on the role of First Lady. I am sure she was informed of the role's potential for media-instigated havoc or favor toward wives of presidents. I hope that she will ignore the current uproar by media about a small fraction of her Tuskegee speech's content, when she "went personal in a negative warning" in a public venue. The selective reporting aimed to cause reaction was part of power-averse media or suspicions of "doing good in unusual ways," as well as, historically, hypocritical (at times) aversion to certain "backgrounds," usually rich, poor, "connected or no connected," or different in style. 

Today's First Lady is surely aware that some people in media across the spectrum of political leanings, and their publishers or producers, enjoy the "Let's you and him (or her)fight." They start an argument, spice it up a bit, deliver it, and watch what happens in the eating up of it, as watchers and readers jump in to slug it out in the soup of snippets, angles, innuendo, a few facts and truths, and bold-faced lies.

I respect the media, nevertheless, as I respect the First Lady role. Sometimes, as with the current presidential line-up developing for 2016, they get it right, really big time. If only we can get the full story from them, without the blurred angles, we will depend on them a lot. This is why, in my view, the media competitors had better have a wide-lensed, non-partisan (as much as possible) and discerning public.

Read the Tuskegee University commencement speech by First Lady Michelle Obama and learn for yourself.

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