By James Taranto -
Just seven weeks after a massacre at an American elementary school, the White House released a photo of the president firing a gun. Strangely, no one seems to think this is in atrocious taste. We imagine the reaction would be quite different if it were, say, George W. Bush.
But a lot of people, including this columnist, doubt that the photo depicts what it purports to show. The White House distributed the pic in response to widespread skepticism of President Obama's assertion, in an interview with a liberal editor and a former campaign coordinator, that "up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time." The man who infamously said that rural Pennsylvanians and Midwesterners "cling to guns" had never before publicly indicated any interest in shooting sports.
But in skeet shooting, the target, a disk known as a clay pigeon, is moving. It is launched from one of two "houses" and travels in a parabolic trajectory across the field. In order to hit it, one has to move the gun so as to follow the path of the clay. It's not impossible that one would fire at shoulder level, as Obama is doing in the photo, but it's unlikely. We therefore surmise that the picture is the product of a photo shoot, not a skeet shoot.
Expressions of dubiety about the photo have prompted some weirdly intense reactions from Obama partisans. Our old pal John Avlon lashes out at "Republican conspiracy nuts" who are "partakers of the paranoid style in American politics" and have succumbed to "the unhinged, hate-fueled impulse" toward "disrespect and near-dehumanization of this president."
Dehumanization? The suspicion here is that when he claimed to be a skeet shooter, Obama was talking to Buncombe--that is, speaking insincerely for political purposes. Has Avlon had so little contact with Homo sapiens that he fails to recognize that is an all too human thing to do? Is he too naive to know it is a behavior characteristic of politicians?
The photo release has provided yet another occasion for journalists writing about firearms to display their basic ignorance about the subject. Here's a correction from the New York Times: "An earlier version of this article misstated the type of weapon that President Obama fired in a photo released Saturday by the White House. It was a shotgun, not a rifle." The BBC made the same mistake, which it corrected without acknowledging error.
Our favorite is this description of the photo from the Associated Press's Darlene Superville:
Obama is outdoors amid grass and trees with a rifle cocked in his left shoulder, his left index finger on the trigger and smoke coming from the barrel. He is wearing jeans, a dark blue, short-sleeved polo shirt, sunglasses and headphones.
As already noted, it's a shotgun, not a rifle, and the gun isn't cocked but has just been fired. In addition, the president isn't wearing headphones but hearing protection; earmuffs would also be an accurate term. And although the "sunglasses" are tinted, it would be more correct to describe them as safety glasses.
But let's give credit where due: Obama is indeed wearing jeans and a dark blue, short-sleeved shirt. Superville is probably correct in deducing that it is a polo shirt, even though the placket is obscured by the president's left forearm. She may have a future on the fashion beat.
In an episode of the 1960s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies ," the title characters go skeet shooting at the invitation of a wealthy, sophisticated banker. Hilarity ensues when Jed Clampett insists on shooting with a rifle instead of a shotgun, and then makes the shot anyway. "To do it with a rifle is absolutely remarkable," says the man from the gun club. Clampett's young cousin Jethro then takes a crack at it and hits four targets in rapid succession. "Fantastic feat!" marvels the gun-club guy. (To which Jed replies, looking at Jethro's feet: "Yeah, they is big all right.")
The conceit of "The Beverly Hillbillies" was that the Clampetts were rubes, ignorant even of such obvious matters as the difference between a shotgun and a rifle. Today's journalists are a lot like the Clampetts, albeit without the impeccable aim.