In the fall of 2006, a young opinion writer named Elizabeth Lauten penned a piece for her student newspaper, the East Carolinian, voicing her reservations over this new thing called Facebook. The aspiring journalist behind “Is Facebook the New Big Brother?” complained that everything in life had suddenly become public. What would be the outcome?
“Facebook has found yet another way to make sure we know EVERY detail of those around us,” she wrote, complaining that everyone can now see everyone else’s “most recent comments.” ” … There’s no point to gossip with girlfriends anymore. … Do you think [Facebook] actually stopped to think about the damper they are going to put on my relationships, as we will have no secrets left to gab about after a few weeks of this?”
She was wise to be wary of spilling secrets on Facebook. Years after delivering those prescient remarks, Lauten got on Facebook on Friday and delivered comments that quickly made her Capitol Hill’s most notorious spokesman and fueled a media frenzy that has only disclosed more Lauten secrets for people to gab about.
The saga began, fittingly, with a turkey. Upon reading some online coverage of President Obama’s annual turkey pardon, which was attended by his allegedly bored-looking daughters, Lauten let loose with an ill-advised Facebook criticism: She targeted Sasha and Malia Obama.
“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re part of the First Family, try showing a little class,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.”
The remarks didn’t go over well. After a wave of negative publicity, Lauten on Monday resigned her position with Republican Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher of Tennessee. “After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were,” Lauten explained in a statement, saying her comments had been extemporaneous.
The path Lauten charted to this point is not without controversy. In December 2000, she was reportedly arrested on misdemeanor larceny charges in Onslow County, N.C., according to court records reported by the Smoking Gun. “Lauten, then 17, was collared for allegedly stealing from a Belk department store in her North Carolina hometown,” the Web site reported. Charges were eventually dismissed.
But that apparently didn’t derail her. Lauten claims on her LinkedIn page that she scored a perfect 36 on the ACT and near-perfect on the SAT, with a score of 1580. Afterward, she breezed into East Carolina University, where she at times felt discomfort with what she characterized as her classmates intellectual shortcomings. “Everywhere I go, I hear fellow students discussing the most insignificant topics,” she wrote in a 2007 column in the East Carolinian. ” … Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I calling anyone at ECU unintelligent … you can do that for yourself, trust me, it’s easy enough.”
In the East Carolinian, Lauten wrote a series of opinion pieces that called on the United States to intervene in Darfur and cheered the execution of Saddam Hussein. But she observed of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, “we should be more civilized” and try a different method of execution: “Whatever happened to the gas chamber or lethal injection?”
Lauten showed little apprehension in wading into divisive debates about race. In one column, she cautioned Americans against “making race an issue once again. … Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people are not discriminated against or that people are treated fairly all the time, but I cannot believe that people have to make such a big deal out of it. There are many more important things to worry about in the world.”
After she got out of school, she moved to the Washington area, where she eventually got a job with Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh. Things apparently didn’t go well. “She didn’t last with me. She had some issues and some problems,” Walsh told the Daily Herald, adding that her recent comments were “pretty stupid.”
After leaving her position in 2011, she returned to opinion work, diving once more into a racial debate. In 2012, African American actress Stacey Dash announced her support for Mitt Romney and endured a Twitter backlash. Lauten responded with a CNN iReport opinion piece: “All of a sudden the Stacey Dash haters of the world have come out because, shocker, a Hollywood celebrity has said they’re supporting somebody other than Barack Obama, and more to that point, it’s an African American celebrity saying they’re supporting somebody other than Obama. Shudder the thought.”
The video resonated. And Lauten, then an Alexandria media consultant and winner of a previous CNN video contest, was nominated for a CNN iReport Award. “It’s kind of crazy looking back at where I am now from being in Jacksonville 10 years ago,” she proudly told the Jacksonville Daily News. “Things are finally coming around full circle from then.”
Until, of course, they came apart.