Not only was that “could Obama’s skinniness be a liability?” Wall Street Journal article…let’s call it…thinly sourced, it also, according to Tim Noah at Slate, carried a “racial subtext.” Writes Noah: “When white people are invited to think about Obama’s physical appearance, the principal attribute they’re likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama’s other physical attributes can’t help coming off as a coy walk around the barn.” Also, says Noah, that Happy Days Episode where Fonzie et al “nervously discuss[ed] that a black man in their midst was so skinny”? Noah rests his case.
What do we do now?
“In the future,” writes Noah, “the press would be wise to avoid discussing how ordinary Americans will respond to the size of Obama’s ears, the thickness of Obama’s eyebrows, and so on.”
Reporters shouldn’t talk about Obama’s physical attributes (and voters’ responses to them) at all? Now, I don’t think Americans will be any worse off for not reading a story about Obama’s eyebrows (Well, it’s not a unibrow. Does he manscape? What do you think, MoDo?) But what about this, instead: if you’re going to write a story about how Americans will respond to [insert one of Obama’s physical attributes], consider that Obama has one particular physical attribute that shouts Different From Any American President To Date! (same deal with Hillary Clinton, different attribute) and that when, for your story, you ask Americans to ponder in some way How Obama Looks, his skin color is going to to be at play in some way. And to not acknowledge that in some capacity is to tell an incomplete story.
Liz Cox Barrett is a freelance writer and graphic designer in Kalispell, Montana. She worked as a newspaper journalist in Denver and Kalispell for 20 years.