We don’t often have occasion to say anything complimentary about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In her designated role as President Obama’s attack dog, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has made a specialty of taking cheap shots at her opponents. When not attempting to demonize Republican positions on the deficit and entitlements, she has even stooped to blame conservatives for the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. But as unfair as she has been to those on the other side of the aisle, that doesn’t justify treating Wasserman Schultz or anyone on her staff in a similar manner. And that is exactly what happened to Danielle Gilbert, a DNC staffer who has been pilloried lately for some silly pictures she posted to her personal Facebook account six years ago when she was in college. But despite reports of pressure from the White House, Wasserman Schultz has refused to dump Gilbert. To that we can only say, good for her.
It is true the picture in which Gilbert is seen kissing money and referring to herself and some friends as “Jewbags” was in poor taste. But the posting by Gilbert, who is the daughter of prominent Jewish contributors to the Obama campaign and now works as the DNC’s outreach liaison to the Jewish community, was a joke and nothing more. The existence of the photo didn’t merit a story. Nor did it justify subjecting a young woman who has done nothing wrong to the sort of humiliation that is part of being the subject of even a minor political dust storm such as this one.
Wasserman Schultz’s instinct to back her aide is laudable. As she rightly points out, it is important for young people (as well as not so young people) to understand that anything — whether innocent jokes or not so innocent behavior captured in a photo or video — they publish on Facebook or Twitter is a matter of public record and can come back to haunt them at any time in the future. But destroying the budding career of an otherwise blameless youngster over such nonsense is both unjust and unethical.
In the no-hold-barred world of political combat in which both parties and their respective journalistic cheering sections are constantly engaged in the business of embarrassing each other, it sometimes feels as if anything is fair game. Far worse things than the Gilbert photo — such as, to take just one egregious example, the unsubstantiated innuendo masquerading as investigative journalism alleging infidelity on the part of then Republican presidential candidate John McCain published by the New York Times in 2008 — easily come to mind. But politics and journalism ought to be better than that. We hope the next time a similar alleged youthful indiscretion about a politician or activist is unearthed, journalists will choose not to go down this same road. We also hope Wasserman Schultz will remember this the next time she is inclined to indulge in uncivil rhetoric herself.