The Associated Press, which supplies virtually all of the national and international news to thousands of newspapers across the country, published an article early this morning about the upcoming winter vacation to Hawaii that President Obama and his family have planned. The article is a well-written feature account of Obama’s childhood in Hawaii and how the residents react to having the President in their midst for a few days every year.
It’s not necessarily my kind of story. I find that feel-good articles abut the personal lives of our elected officials invest them with some of the attributes of royalty, which is, after all, what we fought against in the Revolutionary War. But for such a story, this one is okay.
Except for the headline, which attempts to turn the article against the President by the use of one word: “entourage.”
Here’s the headline:
Obama, family, entourage expected soon in Kailua
But the story is entirely about the President, his family and the residents of the island. The article has not one reference to the staff or security people who will accompany the President on his trip, so why is a word referring to them in the headline? When you read the story, you realize that the more appropriate headline would have been “Obama and family expected soon in Kailua.” But the headline writer added the word “entourage” and the editor stuck with it.
Nitpicking, you may say. But is it?
I went back over the use of the word “entourage” in news stories about presidents over the past five years and in every other case I found that the news story is about the groups of people serving presidents of various countries, including of the United States. Additionally, most but not all of the uses of “entourage” attach at least a little negative connotation to the word, either a questioning of its cost, size or honesty.
Here are some examples:
- Friends of Moldavian president are buying state assets for cheap
- Article on who travels with the Iranian president
- Blog about who travels with President Bush
- Analysis of the cost for all people who travel with president
- Who is going to China with President Clinton
- News of the air crash in which the Polish president died
Now why would the headline writer (who is usually a different person than the writer of the article) want to use “entourage” in a headline when the story is not about the “entourage?”
My answer: to make the president look bad.
Many words carry with them mythic associations that can change over time. In the case of entourage, there are three layers of mythic association, two quite recent, that make its use at least slightly pejorative, no matter the context.
- Merriam Webster’s defines entourage as “one’s attendants or subordinates,” which strongly implies that royalty is involved. Entourage has always had a slightly negative nuance of hangers-on, people who serve the ego of or attach themselves to “modern royalty” such as boxers, basketball players or rock stars.
- Since the ascent of the TV show, entourage has acquired a new meaning, “a group of young men who hang around all day smoking dope and talking about their dreams.” I would assert that at this juncture in time, this meaning is the primary one for a large number of Americans. Of course, we don’t ever like our President taking a toke, and we don’t want to think of his advisors as a bunch of loose-end guys with whom he’s been hanging since elementary school.
- A few months back, Michelle Bachman in another of her seemingly endless stream of highly exaggerated numbers (some would call them “big lies”), used the word “entourage” to impute the size and cost of the security people and staff members going with the President to India. When attached to the President, “entourage” has now become a code word on the far right that suggests that: 1) Obama’s election came because of his “celebrity” not his qualifications, 2) more than other Presidents, President Obama has tried to increase the imperial trappings of the presidency.
Three meanings, and all negative when applied to the President. And yet the story had nothing to do with Obama’s staff. A headline writer and editor of a primary media source for most Americans went out of their way to put a little anti-Obama message into the headline, which is the most-read and sometimes the only read part of all articles.