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From AJR,   February/March 2013  issue

Too Zany for The Onion   

The politico/media complex’s preoccupation with President Obama and skeet shooting.Tue., February 5, 2013.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

It sounds like something out of The Onion. Or maybe The Onion would pass on it because it was just too implausible.

For the past week, one of the big stories in Washington journalism has revolved around President Barack Obama and skeet shooting.

For reals.

Take a step back, think about it for a minute and you'll realize how silly that is. The Washington Post's intrepid fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, launched a full-fledged investigation into the president's alleged skeet shooting. Jessica Yellin, CNN's White House correspondent, wanted photographic evidence.

With all the pressing problems facing the country, this is what we're obsessing about? It's an episode that's likely to end up in the D.C. Off the Rails Hall of Fame, right up there with the time Politico ran a story about sort-of GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain's reaction to the death of disco queen Donna Summer.

Blame The New Republic.

The contretemps began when the magazine's editor, Franklin Foer, asked Obama during an interview, "Have you ever fired a gun?"

The president replied, "Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time."

Once the magazine posted the interview on January 27, the media were off and running. The disclosure came in the midst of Obama's effort to enact new gun control legislation in the wake of the massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut, a campaign that has brought the president little love from gun lovers. To some the president's sudden profession of his predilection for skeet shooting had the ring of "some of my best friends are gun owners."

The day after The New Republic interview appeared, Yellin pressed the White House for details. According to CNN.com:

When asked by Jessica Yellin, CNN's chief White House correspondent, how often the president goes skeet shooting, White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier Monday that he doesn't know.

"He does go to Camp David with some regularity, but I'm not sure how often he's done that," Carney said during the daily press briefing.

Pressed further if there was a photograph of the president taking part in the sport, Carney said "There may be, but I haven't seen it."

"Why haven't we heard about it before?" Yellin continued.

"Because when he goes to Camp David, he goes to spend time with his family and friends and relax, not to produce photographs," Carney said.

But the matter just didn't go away. Not in the current political and journalistic landscape. Gun enthusiasts, Second Amendment fans and people who just don't like the president very much continued to hammer away.

"If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this," wondered Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, who challenged the president to a skeet shooting showdown. "Why have we not seen photos?" Blackburn asked "Why has he not referenced it at any point in time as we have had this gun debate that is ongoing?"

Fox News, endeavoring to determine what did he shoot and when did he shoot it? published an expose with this headline: "Obama goes 'skeet shooting all the time'? Hardly ever, sources say".

And so, as inevitably as night follows day, the White House felt compelled to come up with photographic evidence documenting that skeet had in fact been shot, or at least shot at. On Saturday, it released a picture of the president blasting away on August 4 – his birthday, no less.

So that calmed everything down, right?

Only in a parallel universe.

Gun control foes made fun of Obama's shooting technique and dismissed the entire episode as political posturing.

The National Rifle Association, the president's chief antagonist on gun control, went all McKayla Maroney. "One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun-control scheme imaginable," said Andrew Arulanandam, the organization's spokesman.

New York magazine came forward with "The Totally Serious Guide to Obama Skeet Shooting Photo Conspiracy Theories."

Former top Obama adviser David Plouffe couldn't resist having a little fun with the kerfuffle. Referencing the echoes of the endless flap over whether or not the president was born in the United States, he tweeted, "Day made. The skeet birthers are out in full force in response to POTUS pic. Makes for most excellent, delusional reading. #whereistrump."

And so Monday afternoon, eight days after The New Republic interview went up, Politico had this headline near the top of its Web site, under the by now ubiquitous photo of the president firing away: "W.H.: Obama never claimed to be a hunter." Talking Points Memo offered up: "Jay Carney: President getting better at skeet shooting." The Drudge Report had "White House defends Obama skeet-shooting photo."

"Skeetgate," as it was inevitably and tragically named, was alive and well.