The waspily named Salon women’s-grievance columnist Mary Elizabeth Williams today takes Google to task over the fact that the search engine … searches the Internet, which includes all sorts of regrettable images, one of which, found on some obscure (and, judging by the English, exotically located) bot blog, depicts Michelle Obama as a monkey. It’s a fairly horrid and patently offensive image — on the Internet, really! I know you are as surprised as I am.
Miss Williams believes that Google is at fault here, even though the search engine simply compiles what’s out there, and she bemoans the “near total lack of accountability for the whole rather sorry affair.”
I agree that the image is in bad taste, and that using simian imagery to debase political figures is bad form. Miss Williams might have noticed, from 2000-2008, that such imagery was well nigh inescapable. Google does not edit the Internet, but Salon’s editors edit Salon, and Salon was a happy trafficker in such imagery, promoting and linking to such clever and highbrow web content as “Bush or Chimp?” and the raging river of anti-Bush invective known as Smirking Chimp.
Salon authors wrote that Bush ” looked like a petrified chimp.” They wrote that he displayed “a willingness to humiliate oneself publicly rivaled only by a circus chimp.”
And if that’s too subtle for you, consider that Salon published an article about Bush headlined “Hail to the Chimp,” which a long discursus on the theme “Bush = Chimp.” They slugged the story “Curious George” (oh, the wit!) and noted that “he looks like he should be peering under Jane Goodall’s shirt in an Apple Computer advertisement or flying back to the castle of the Wicked Witch with Toto in his clutches,” lampooned him as “commander-in-chimp,” noted his “propensity for striking chimplike poses,” etc., etc. So taken were the editors of Salon with their chimping of the president that they included the piece in their annual “Best of Salon” feature, boasting: “Our fearless coverage of 9/11 ranged from Ground Zero to Afghanistan. We explained “Mulholland Drive,” exposed Silicon Valley and asked if Bush was a chimp.” These weren’t the rantings of anonymous comment posters, but the words of Salon’s writers and editors.
The fact that Mrs. Obama is black adds a nasty racist taint to the image that was made of her, to be sure, though it is worth noting that our sensitive progressive friends have not abstained from using racist imagery to debase Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, et al. At most, what Miss Williams has discovered here is that people who operate blogs based in distant lands often are a good deal less sensitive about race than Americans are. You don’t say?
The blog that posted the image later published an apology reading:
I am very sorry for this article, andthat this is the program automatically issued a document from the article. Do not the subject of race and politics make the discussion too radical and sincere hope that the world is very peaceful.
Somehow, this is in some measure the fault of Google; I’d been expecting her to blame Glenn Beck. But if Miss Williams really objects to depicting public figures as monkeys, she might walk down the hall and have a chat with her editors.