“A slang term that many found offensive”

The question is, who DIDN’T find it offensive to refer to Michelle Obama as if she were the mother of Barack Obama’s children as a result of a casual liaison rather than a marriage?

Sometimes the conventions of journalistic “objectivity” reach the point of self-parody.

Consider this headline and subhead from the New York Times website:

Fox Forced to Address Michelle Obama Headline

In referring to the candidate’s wife, the network used a slang term that many found offensive.

The Fox “headline” involved (actually a chyron: text that appears on a TV screen) was:

Outraged Liberals: Stop picking on Obama’s baby mama

The Times news story itself (far better written than the headline) explains the meaning of “baby mama.”:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as one “chiefly in African-American usage” that refers to, “The mother of a man’s child, who is not his wife nor (in most cases) his current or exclusive partner.”

“A term that many found offensive”? Who, pray, didn’t find it offensive to classify a wife as equivalent to a casual girlfriend who got pregnant, and to do so using a black slang term when the couple involved happens to be black?

But the subhead suggests, to anyone who doesn’t click through to the story, that Fox was simply another victim of the politically correct language police: the sort of people who find, or purport to find, the word “niggardly” offensive either because they don’t know what it means or because they like to stir up trouble and force other people to apologize. This is the result of the subhead-writer’s reluctance to characterize this especially nasty bit of Fox filth as “offensive;” instead, the offense must be projected onto an unnamed “many.”

This avoids the headline-writer’s seeming to take sides. But it does so at the expense of clarity. The expression was offensive, and was intended offensively. Why not say so?

Footnote Linguistically, what I think is going on is that in Ebonic, which is less inflected than Standard English, a noun such as “baby” doesn’t inflect (by adding ‘s) when used in the possessive. So the Standard English version of the phrase would be “Obama’s baby’s mama,” which seems like a perfectly clear way of specifying the relationship between a man and a woman not his partner who is nonetheless the mother of his child, and of course an absurdly disgusting way to refer to the relationship between a man and his wife.

Second footnote I keep wondering when the people &#8212 not all of them McCain trolls &#8212 who argue that Democratic women and men with feminist sympathies ought to vote Republican this year, or cast some throwaway vote, or stay home, in order to protest the misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton, will notice that the attack on Michelle Obama is the same as the attack on Hillary Clinton when Bill was a candidate and then President, which in turn was the same as the attack on Eleanor Roosevelt. The only difference this time is the addition of racism to the sexism. I note with gratification that Taylor Marsh, virulently anti-Obama until last Saturday, isn’t having any of that nonsense, thank you.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com