By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
Unravelling ‘Skeetgate,’ one Conservative accusation at a time
The whole scandal started with a simple question put to President Barack Obama, and his equally simple answer. In a wide-ranging interview, New Republic writer Franklin Foer asked Obama “Have you ever fired a gun?” and Obama said “Yes, in fact up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” adding that he had “a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations.” It was the President’s attempt to prove that though he’s been talking about gun control, he still can connect with regular gun-toting Joes. And while he probably didn’t expect to convince many people, he probably didn’t expect the reaction he actually got: a new mini-movement of “skeet truthers,” who dispute the idea that Obama would ever fire a gun.
In the first stage of “Skeetgate,” Obama’s claim that he skeet shoots “all the time” was immediately taken up and mocked by conservative bloggers and pundits, who argued that this was clearly a lie or at least an exaggeration. Roy Edroso, who covers the conservative blogosphere for The Village Voice, rounded up examples of how bloggers “immediately and strenuously disbelieved” the assertion. One blogger pointed to a video where Obama looked nervous at hearing a shooting gun, proof that the President is unused to the sound.
Others allowed that perhaps he’s fired a gun once or twice, but is exaggerating about the “all the time” part: Fox News went to an anonymous source who, they claimed, “has been to the retreat on a half-dozen visits with Obama,” and who said that “the only time he shot skeet was for President’s Cup,” plus maybe one other time. “He couldn’t have been more uncomfortable,” the source said, reassuring Fox viewers that Obama is an anti-gun wimp who barely knows how to hold the thing. Marsha Blackburn, a conservative Republican representative from Tennessee, told CNN that she questioned the whole premise: “‘If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this? Why have we not seen photos? Why hasn’t he referenced this at any point in time?’”
The cries of skeet fraud became loud enough that the White House staff decided to do what they did with Obama’s birth certificate, and provide the evidence: they released a photo, taken at Camp David in August of last year, of the President wearing shades and earmuffs and shooting at what, presumably, are a bunch of offscreen clay pigeons. But this photo raised more questions than it settled. Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the timing: “Why did the White House decide to release the skeet shooting photos three days before this trip?” a reporter queried, referring to Obama’s upcoming tour to promote his gun-control plan. Even an Obama ally, his former campaign strategist David Axelrod, lamented that Obama “should have put the picture out earlier. I don’t know why they waited five days to put that out. It just rekindled the whole story.”
Especially because the photo created a brand-new story: charges of photoshopping and other photographic fakery. Bloggers took to the intertubes to advance various theories for why the gun wasn’t real and Obama was not the second, or even the first shooter. Michael Harlin of The American Thinker, a very conservative but verbose blog, explained that “the weapon is nearly level to the ground” and that in his 50 years of shooting experience, “I have never once seen a smoke pattern like that,” adding that “it is evident that the President has never shot a shotgun before as his stance is leaning slightly backward.” Blogger Pat Dollard pointed out that Obama was reportedly golfing on the very day the photo was taken, and obviously he couldn’t possibly go golfing and shooting in the same day.
Those who didn’t smell a conspiracy at least saw the photo as a staged opportunity to fool the public into thinking Obama likes guns, when he clearly hates them and wants to pry them from your cold dead hands. The blog Five Feet of Fury summed it up: “Why is Obama shooting skeet with a rifle, why an ‘assault’ model, and why is he aiming so low (while wearing mom jeans)?” The “mom jeans” comment caught on enough to make Obama’s pants almost as much an object of mockery as the oversized gun itself.
If one offhand comment and one skeet-shooting photo can create a whole new flood of conspiracy theories and conservative memes, there’s no telling what we may be in for during the next four years. But the controversy seemed to make it clear what will happen every time Obama tries to prove he’s not so different from the people he once described as “cling[ing] to guns or religion.” It’s probably never going to work. Because as NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam said to CNN, “One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun control scheme imaginable.” Arulanandam’s tack may be the simplest and most effective one—don’t dispute that the photo is real or that Obama shoots skeet, just say that it doesn’t matter as long as he’s coming for your guns.