It took, this time, less than two hours for the name to fix the narrative. On Monday at 11:30 p.m., while the State of the Union address was being parried and pundited, the Baltimore Sun sidestepped the speech with a headline on its blog: “At SOTU, Obama’s Clinton snub was the news.”

The post described the now-rehashed-ad-nauseam Handshake That Wasn’t between the Democratic presidential rivals—“Obama stood icily staring at Clinton during this, then turned his back and stepped a few feet away”—then went on to explain how the Non-Shake was “the news” that would overshadow President Bush’s last State of the Union:

The sense in the press gallery was that Obama didn’t cover himself in glory. Someone even used the word “childish.” (Not this writer.) Judging by how much conversation there was about this brush off in the press gallery, Americans will be hearing a lot more about this tomorrow and in coming days.

And, oh, have we ever. Within hours, To-Snub-Or-Not-To-Snub became The Question—one that was considered and analyzed and answered by fray-frenzied Hamlets of the political press:

Was it a snub? (Boston Globe’s Political Intelligence)
It WASN’T a Snub! Obama Explains All… (Huffington Post)
Was Hillary Snubbed? Obama Says No (Huffington Post)
Obama on the State of the Union “Snub” (ABC News)
Obama Says It Was a Turn, Not a Snub (New York Times’s The Caucus)
Obama says Clinton ‘snub’ didn’t happen (Houston Chronicle)
Obama’s Snub? He Says No (MSNBC)
Obama and Senate ally: Clinton wasn’t snubbed (Baltimore Sun’s The Swamp)
Obama Campaign: No Snub Intended (Time magazine’s The Page)
Hillary on ‘The Snub’ (The New Republic’s The Stump)

Except—actually, scratch that. The whole ‘he snubbed-her/he-snubbed-her-not’ query line quickly stretched its peskily curved question mark into a much more straightforward (and exciting!) exclamation point. It went from ‘The Snub (question mark?)’ to ‘The Snub (exclamation point!)’ as reporters and pundits alike chose analysis over accuracy, “What It Meant” over “What It Was.”

Maureen Dowd presented The Snub* as proof of the “outrage” Obama has harbored for Clinton since her initial “iciness” toward him. (He’s “emotionally delicate,” MoDo offered.) Time’s Mark Halperin reported on “The Snub Before the Snub”: Obama’s alleged refusal to cater to Party leaders’ desire for him to watch the SOTU next to Clinton. (Axelrod denied this.) That consummate opinion-maker, Whoopi Goldberg, got in on the action, announcing on yesterday’s The View—via Ben Smith’s “Snub watch” updates—how “very proud” she was of Clinton for the candidate’s “bravery.” Mark Ambinder pointed out, the moment was recorded only in still images, which made The Snub*, as much as anything else, subject to Spin:

If you’re an Obama supporter, he was politely responding to a question from Claire McCaskill and did not know that Sen. Clinton was eager to shake his hand. If you’re an opponent, you saw the “real Obama”—not the Jesus his staff portrays him to be, but an arrogant upstart for whom “New Politics” means the Politics of Me.

So the candidates spun for themselves. (Clinton, fanning the flames: “I reached out my hand in friendship and unity, and my hand is still reaching out.” Obama, trying to squelch them: “I think there is just a lot more tea leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting.”)

And last night, politics met celebrity as Inside Edition ran its own version of the story, entitled, elegantly, “SNUB!.” The piece Ken Burns effect-ized the already-iconic still image of The Snub* for all it was worth, consulted “body language expert” Tonya Reiman for an analysis of the image, and ultimately concluded that the whole affair “may go down as one of the great snubs in recent history.”

Right. The whole thing would be pretty comical, all this melodramatic he-said-she-said—the photographic analyses, the body language experts, the headlines, the subtexts, the sound, the fury—except that, frankly, it’s getting hard to keep laughing. It’s one thing to mention The Snub* as a footnote to the Kennedy Endorses Obama story, or to the State of the Union summary; it’s another to treat such a silly sideshow as a main focus of the news cycle. Yesterday, the House passed a $161 billion economic recovery package. Today, President Bush is flying to Hawaii to talk with other major world economies about climate change. Two presidential campaigns are ending. Another is enjoying renewed momentum.

And what are we hearing about?

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.