Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The story of Graeme Frost has been Malkinized on the conservative blogs. What this term (which I think I just invented?) means is that the point of the story has been turned from what it initially was into something else, and this was done in ways which are morally shaky. Or at least they look shaky to me.

Now the Malkinized version has entered the mainstream via the lap of the Gray Lady, New York Times:

There have been moments when the fight between Congressional Democrats and President Bush over the State Children's Health Insurance Program seemed to devolve into a shouting match about who loves children more.

So when Democrats enlisted 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who along with a younger sister relied on the program for treatment of severe brain injuries suffered in a car crash, to give the response to Mr. Bush's weekly radio address on Sept. 29, Republican opponents quickly accused them of exploiting the boy to score political points.

Then, they wasted little time in going after him to score their own.

In recent days, Graeme and his family have been attacked by conservative bloggers and other critics of the Democrats' plan to expand the insurance program, known as S-chip. They scrutinized the family's income and assets — even alleged the counters in their kitchen to be granite — and declared that the Frosts did not seem needy enough for government benefits.

But what on the surface appears to be yet another partisan feud, all the nastier because a child is at the center of it, actually cuts to the most substantive debate around S-chip. Democrats say it is crucially needed to help the working poor — Medicaid already helps the impoverished — but many Republicans say it now helps too many people with the means to help themselves.

The feud also illustrates what can happen when politicians showcase real people to make a point, a popular but often perilous technique. And in this case, the discourse has been anything but polite.

The critics accused Graeme's father, Halsey, a self-employed woodworker, of choosing not to provide insurance for his family of six, even though he owned his own business. They pointed out that Graeme attends an expensive private school. And they asserted that the family's home had undergone extensive remodeling, and that its market value could exceed $400,000.

One critic, in an e-mail message to Graeme's mother, Bonnie, warned: "Lie down with dogs, and expect to get fleas." As it turns out, the Frosts say, Graeme attends the private school on scholarship. The business that the critics said Mr. Frost owned was dissolved in 1999. The family's home, in the modest Butchers Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, was bought for $55,000 in 1990 and is now worth about $260,000, according to public records. And, for the record, the Frosts say, their kitchen counters are concrete.

For the record, what I found morally shaky was the way Michelle Malkin personally went to scout out the family's house, firm and to question their neighbors. And who gave these "critics" the family's e-mail address?

Thers has lots more on this process of Malkinization.

When I read all the different takes on this saga in the blogosphere I felt increasingly frustrated. Yes, the whole Malkinization process is nasty and sordid and the story has all the right buttons to push: attacking children, invading privacy, snooping and making up facts and so on. But note that the conversation we are now having is not about Bush vetoing the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Instead, we talk about the use of children in political campaigning and whether the Frosts are rich, middle-class or poor and how much we could sell their house for. This does not hurt the Bush administration at all. Keeping the limelight on Bush vetoing SCHIP a little longer would have.