The national dust storm kicked up by the “Obama” clown in a bull ring at the Missouri State Fair is the latest illustration of the way a small local controversy about race can quickly turn into a national one with the help of video, social media, traditional media and radio talk shows.
Jo Mannies, Missouri’s premier political reporter at the St. Louis Beacon, traced the way the controversy in Sedalia last weekend quickly reached Washington and beyond.
A Facebook post by an angry fair attendee was picked up by the pro-Democratic local blog site ShowMeProgress.com, which was one of the first sites on the Web to call attention to the applause attracted by a voice over the loudspeaker asking the crowd if it wanted to see Obama “run down by a bull.”
The Kansas City Star jumped on the story and posted a two-part video (here and here). Politicians also reacted quickly. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, was the first one to Twitter his disapproval and to call for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to take action. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri’s Democratic senator, called the clown incident “shameful” and “unacceptable.”
The NAACP asked the Justice Department to investigate the incident. That opened the door for conservative radio talk show hosts Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to jump in, much of their commentary criticizing the over-the-top liberal outrage over the incident.
Missouri State Fair officials – who are appointed by the governor – announced Aug. 11 that the clown was banned for life from the fair. That raised free-speech concerns in some quarters. Clearly the state fair officials couldn’t ban a citizen who had expressed the views the clown had expressed. But legal experts agreed that fair officials could decide not to sign any more contracts with an offensive performer.
Taken together, the Obama clown incident demonstrates the components of a spontaneous national controversy: Racial innuendo, plus video, plus Facebook, plus social media, plus mainstream media, plus radio talk show hosts = big media storm.