Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yawning Boy Is No Laughing Matter

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

David Letterman's late-night comedy show offered some hilarious footage this week: As President George W. Bush spoke from a podium in Florida, a 12-year-old struggled valiantly to stay awake. You can find the footage at A young man in khaki shorts, a black polo shirt and an orange baseball cap, standing behind the President, lets rip some jaw-unhinging yawns (without covering his mouth because his hands are in his pockets), lolls his head around, claps and yawns, claps and checks his watch, and yawns. Soon he resorts to desperate stay-awake exercises. He takes a knee for a time and finally falls asleep on his feet, only partially waking to smile and applaud.

Pretty amusing, right? Wrong!

There is no laughing at this president! CNN picked up the footage but soon labeled it fake, citing the White House. Letterman responded in outrage. CNN apologized -- and then, oddly, also denied that it had ever heard from the White House. Letterman countered that "our source, a very good source, confirms the White House did call CNN." Of all the possible scenarios here, Letterman's seems most likely. Especially since CNN is looking more and more like a low-rent version of Russia's Channel One.

Last year, CNN -- which already had theme music and snazzy graphics in the can to accompany its future war coverage -- was refusing the tamest ads, even ads featuring clergy, that questioned the wisdom of invading Iraq, on grounds that "we do not accept international advocacy ads on regions in conflict." (What?) More recently, anchorman Wolf Blitzer has proven willing to smear White House critics. Reporting on former anti-terrorism tsar Richard Clarke, the administration's new nightmare, Blitzer cited unnamed government sources saying Clarke's "personal life" might have "some weird aspects."

So that's life in America these days. The week begins with a chuckle; but by mid-week you've realized that even a 12-year-old's yawn can be met with official hostility, and you're starting to feel uneasy. By Friday a wave of relief sets in because the White House has decided against punitive action and is instead chucking the boy under the chin. As The Washington Post reported Friday: "The White House, trying to get out in front of the Yawning Boy story, is now in charge of media access to the young man." First stop: The David Letterman show, because, as assistant press secretary Reed Dickens explains, "He's a young person who strongly supports the president and is excited about getting a chance to talk about it." As to the fun had at the President's expense, Dickens adds, "We think it's all in good nature, very good-humored."

Letterman snorts in reply that, "This whole thing just smells." He observes that now everyone says they're delighted, but initially everyone was furious. In fact, a newspaper that spoke with the boy's father, a Florida Republican politician, initially found him "more than a bit anxious": "I accept full responsibility," dad told The Orlando Sentinel. "I should have prepped him better."

To sum up: If this were Russia and some nutter in Omsk filed suit against the satirical program Krasnaya Strela for defaming President Vladimir Putin, every American news bureau would be on the case with deadly seriousness. Yet when the White House itself feels threatened enough by a kid's yawns to sow confusion on national television about whether he even exists, well ... that's a "bright" story that's gotten just a little too complicated to bother with.

Matt Bivens is a former editor of The Moscow Times.