Over in the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan insists First Lady Melania Trump’s “disappearance is a legitimate news story.”
Except that it’s not really a disappearance, since she says in the third paragraph, “until a private appearance Monday night with Gold Star parents, she hadn’t been sighted since — an absence of almost four weeks.”
Actually, back on May 30, CNBC Washington correspondent Eamon Javers wrote “I saw the First Lady walking with her aides in the West Wing yesterday afternoon,” but apparently he’s not a reliable witness or something. More likely, Javers’s account inconveniently disrupts the dramatic “she’s been missing for weeks!” narrative. Come on, White House press corps. She’s not Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, or the Mary Celeste. She just stopped doing public appearances for a few weeks.
Why, it’s almost as if Melania had surgery or something! (Or we could go with the “Lizard people kidnapped her” theory.)
Sullivan insists that the media wasn’t “rabid” about the story. I suppose that’s in the eye of the beholder, and yes, as far as we can tell, no, no reporters were literally frothing at the mouth as they discussed the first lady. But then Sullivan concedes, “Granted, it’s largely the gossip value — not any crucial public interest — of the Melania Trump story that makes up most of its appeal.” Which . . . seems to undermine that bold Post headline that it is a “legitimate news story.”
Look, if the first lady hadn’t really had surgery, of if there was some real evidence that her health condition was more serious than the White House public statement indicated, then yes, this would be a huge story. Absent that new information, this is a woman who clearly never expected to be first lady, who may or may not be such a huge fan of her husband all the time, and who’s recovering from kidney surgery. This is a White House that leaks like a discount diaper, you think there’s some sort of vast successful effort to hide a scandalous truth about Melania?
It’s important for the news media to report on how those norms are eroding, to keep track of the changes, whether radical or superficial. The unprecedented weeks-long absence of the first lady may not rank particularly high in that order, but it’s still worthy of notice.
Eh, okay; there’s nothing wrong with periodically inquiring about how the first lady’s recovering. But there’s a long, long, long list of real topics worth covering well before that.