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Google ♥ Obama

From the Scrapbook.

Dec 7, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 12
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Last week the Washington Post reported an odd bit of news from Mountain View, Calif.: Google was issuing an apology for one of its search results.

Apparently, it had come to Google's attention that when users performed an image search for "Michelle Obama," the first result was a nasty caricature of the First Lady. This prompted Google to run an ad on its own website apologizing to users for the image and explaining why it was included in the results. As Google spokesman Scott Rubin told the Post, "Because the image is offensive to many, we felt it was important to explain to our users why an image like that would appear."

While THE SCRAPBOOK is saddened to see the Internet put to such ignoble purposes--who knew that Vice President Gore's information superhighway could be so vulgar!--Google's apology seems a little strange. Because it turns out that the search results for lots of famous politicos are not very nice.

Do an image search for "George Bush," for instance, and the second result (as we write) is a Photoshopped picture making George W. Bush look as though he's eating a kitten. Just below that is a drawing of the former president as a fiendish ghoul. Do an image search for "Dick Cheney" and the fourth result is a picture of him doctored up into S&M garb. (Other first-page results have him as a vampire, a terminator, and Doctor Evil.)

Perhaps Google took the abuse of Michelle Obama more seriously because she's not an active politician. Well, neither is Sarah Palin. The top Google image result for Palin, however, is a fake Vogue cover with her face unflatteringly Photoshopped in. Other mocking top results include Palin's face pasted onto a busty model and onto a woman in a bikini who is holding a machine gun.

Of course, as unflattering as those pictures are, they aren't racist. So maybe Google is just being racially sensitive. Except that when you image search "Michael Steele," one of the top results shows the Republican chairman Photoshopped into minstrel attire, with white gloves, blackface, and giant red lips.

Maybe Google apologized because Michelle is simply a politician's wife and the company believes that the family members of public figures should be left alone. THE SCRAPBOOK agrees! Yet when you search for images of "Laura Bush," one of the first results you see is a picture which tries to make it appear as though the former first lady is standing around bottomless.

So why would Google give Michelle Obama special treatment? Who could say? It's a mystery!

The First State Dinner

THE SCRAPBOOK was overcome by nostalgia last week. With the arrival of the Indian prime minister and his wife in Washington, and the first state dinner at the Obama White House--by the way, can you have a state dinner in honor of someone who isn't head of state?--we couldn't help but reminisce about past state dinners.

There was, for example, the time Jacques Chirac came to visit George W. Bush, and Dubya climbed into his newly pressed Levis and swanky cowboy boots to feed the president of France a hearty meal of cheeseburgers and freedom fries, followed by video games. Then there was the dinner in honor of Hamid Karzai, leader of the newly liberated Afghanistan, when Bush pulled out all the stops for his exotic foreign guest: Take-out Chinese food, German Chocolate Cake for dessert, and music provided by surviving members of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.

We're joking, of course. But if you read the breathless accounts of the Obama dinner in the New York Times or the Washington Post--there were 19 pictures altogether in the Post (and 38 online!)--you would get the distinct impression that there had never before been a state dinner at the White House, and even if there had, it must have been something like our fictional description of Bush state dinners.