Should We Care About The Cost of The First Lady's Clothes?
9 months ago
Michelle Obama, Ann Romney and the myth of the media double standard
For the record, as someone who appreciates clothes, I still do not fully appreciate the concept of spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on one item of clothing. But that does not mean that I don’t believe that someone who has the money to should be prevented from, or made to feel ashamed, for doing so. There are parallels to this faux controversy to the real controversy that erupted when hip-hop mogul P. Diddy’s son was awarded a scholarship to UCLA. As I explained at the time, the real issue was not that people disapprove of a celebrity’s child being awarded a scholarship that he or she rightfully earned. Plenty of celebrity children before Diddy’s have earned scholarships, among them Denzel Washington, and yet these celebrities have managed to avoid the same measure of media scrutiny and outcry his family generated.
The reason? Celebrities like Denzel Washington are best known for their philanthropy, and efforts to use their wealth to help others, not for bragging about their bling. In the case of the comparisons of the coverage of the First Lady versus the coverage of Ann Romney, there is a similar image gulf. It is no secret that Gov. Mitt Romney has struggled to shake his image as an out of touch real-life version of “Richie-Rich.” His offshore accounts and multiple mansions don’t exactly scream “everyman.” Then, of course, there is the small detail of his campaign promises that will benefit the wealthy (such as eliminating the estate tax, and opposing tax increases on the wealthy). So when his wife wears a $990 shirt, it only adds to the family’s image as out of touch and perhaps a bit selfish. (I can just hear a prospective voter saying, “Well, no wonder he doesn’t want to pay more in taxes. How would his Mrs. be able to afford her shirts?”)
On the other hand, President Obama has said he believes he and the First Lady should pay more taxes, because of their wealth. So the $6800 jacket doesn’t seem quite so problematic. After all, she and her husband are volunteering to give up more than that so that others who are not as fortunate as they are can benefit.
While I hate to admit this, I think the other reason the media reacted so differently to each woman’s garments is fairly obvious. People really liked the way the First Lady’s jacket looked. Ann Romney usually looks lovely, but I have yet to hear anyone say they actually liked her $990 shirt. So perhaps by focusing on price, critics did Mrs. Romney a favor.
Rachel Larris of the media watchdog group the Women’s Media Center sees things differently. She was not critical of either woman’s fashion choices or the costs, but was critical of the media coverage of this pseudo controversy at all. "We really wonder if a woman was running for president how much time the media would spend covering the cost of her husband's suits?” she asked.