Chances are good you haven't heard this one: that, while in Buckingham Palace last week, milling about with G-20 leaders, the current president of the United States bowed deeply at the waist, one knee bent, on meeting the current King, so-called, of Saudi Arabia, who did not bow back. Chances are even better you haven't seen the video.
That's because Big Media, from viewer-deprived networks to newspapers considering bailouts, have neither aired the video of the incident nor reported on it. ("The O'Reilly Factor" doesn't count.) Washington Post reporter Michael A. Fletcher's breezy dismissal of a reader's online query exemplifies media disinterest: "I'm not sure what the etiquette is for such greetings, but I'm sure the president was only trying to convey respect ... Remember some years ago when President Bush touched cheeks with and held the hand of a Saudi monarch during a visit to his Texas ranch? Another sign of respect. I would not make too much of it."
Well, I would.
The assorted supplications George W. Bush engaged in, from holding hands with and kissing Abdullah, to joining in a Saudi "sword dance" while trying to beg down the price of oil, made me sick then, and Barack Obama's obeisance to the protector of Mecca and Medina (widely available online if not in the "news") makes me sick now. But just as disturbing is the American reaction.
This includes, first, the unconscionable failure of media organizations to spare a few inches of column or seconds of airtime from Michelle Obama's campy cardigans for this deferential display by the United States toward Saudi Arabia. But much of the mainly conservative blog commentary on the incident, while welcome as bona fide signs of life out there, has come off as strangely beside the point.
Or, rather, as largely limited to one point: etiquette. It's true that Americans don't bow to royalty, period -- a point made repeatedly in blogs expressing frosty outrage over the incident as though the Obama-Abdullah bow were no more than a generic breach of protocol. A Washington Times editorial hammered home this same abstraction.
But an American bow to Saudi Arabia is more than "unbecoming," as Clarice Feldman wrote at The American Thinker, more than "a simple but costly breakdown in basic command of protocol," as Camille Paglia wrote at Slate, more than "baseness," as Richard Brookhiser wrote at The Corner, and more than "the kind of rookie mistake you get from a president who was a state senator five years ago," as Michael Goldfarb wrote at the Weekly Standard blog. It was calumny on a historic level.