We expect nothing short of masterful observation from our thriving hometown paper ombudsman here in Washington.
In that case, was Sunday’s piece by WaPo‘s Patrick Pexton a letdown or not?
On one hand, perhaps channeling talk show host Tyra Banks in a column about whether the publication has recently been offensive to first ladies is not the best way to go. And sure, maybe it is not the most highbrow way to reach a tightly wound Washington audience when you’re talking about gender and journalism, which tends to attract a prickly gaggle of women to begin with.
At issue are a recent blog post on first lady Michelle Obama’s 1,700 calorie-jaunt to Shake Shack in Dupont Circle and a story by new WaPo columnist and Jezebel founder Anna Holmes in which she talks about Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush like they were Kardashians. There’s Nancy’s love of astrology and Barbara being “dowdy.” Pexton interviews Holmes for his piece and she says she was being “honest” and declares, “I don’t regret doing it.”
An excerpt from Pexton’s column: “The wives of our presidents walk in a minefield of expectations — the first lady is supposed to be the nation’s unroyal queen, its top hostess, a fashion plate at the same time as a child rearer, a career woman and an issue crusader, plus the eternal earth mother, strong yet nurturing, kind to all yet with a backbone that can bolster her man.”
Really, Mr. Ombudsman. Her man? You mean, her main man, main squeeze, POTUS?
On the other hand, maybe this is a sign of a new, loose WaPo, with the ombudsman flipping back and forth on what’s appropriate. While writing in the voice of Tyra, he declares that Holmes went too far and there were other, ahem, more interesting facets to the first ladies such as Bush’s literacy campaign (Zzzz) and Nancy’s “steely support” for her husband (Zzzzzzz).
After enumerating various complaints from uptight readers about why WaPo editors fell asleep on the job, he concluded that the Shake Shack story was perfectly acceptable. “A little tabloidy, invasive and sexist? Well, yeah. But given Michelle’s child nutrition advocacy, a story not completely out of bounds.”