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Presidents’ Day catalyzes quirky media coverage

Published: Monday, Feb. 18 2013 9:51 p.m. MST

Estela Martinez photographs her sons Manuel, 8, center, and Wiian, 5, with presidential presenter C. Roger Cooper as President George Washington during the Presidents Day celebration at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif. on Monday Feb. 18,2013.

Richard Vogel, AP

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Media outlets engaged in a wide array of strategies for reporting about events big and small surrounding Presidents’ Day.

On Monday, Christian Science Monitor staff writer Peter Grier published an article, “Presidents' Day 2013: Actually, there’s no such thing,” that bears a striking resemblance to Grier’s own piece from this time last year, “Why you should stop calling today Presidents' Day.” Although the two articles aren’t carbon copies of each other, an obvious overlap exists. Consider, for example, this apples-to-apples comparison of how the two articles begin:

Grier writing about Presidents’ Day, 2013

We know we’re swimming up a creek without a paddle here, but there is no federal Presidents’ Day holiday. We don’t care what your mattress ad says — is that a legal document?

The official name of Monday’s day off is “George Washington’s Birthday.” It’s supposed to honor the Father of Our Country, and only him. Not Abraham Lincoln, not Franklin D. Roosevelt, not any other of the nation’s former chief executives. Chester A. Arthur will just have to get his own holiday, if he can.

Grier writing about Presidents’ Day, 2012

We don't care what that mattress sale ad says — there is no such thing as a national Presidents’ Day. It’s a myth, like the story about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and throwing it across the Potomac at Abe Lincoln.

Yes, there is a federal day off on Feb. 20, 2012. But its official name is “Washington’s Birthday.” We’re supposed to celebrate the life and legacy of the Father of Our Country, not the rest of those Mount Rushmore guys. They can get their own holiday. Thomas Jefferson, we’re looking at you.

OK, we know we're swimming upstream here, because every sale ad in the U.S. this morning will talk about special Presidents' Day prices. Other media routinely refer to this as Presidents' Day. It is Presidents' Day in the popular mind. It just isn't Presidents' Day in U.S. law.

Other news nuggets that emerged over the holiday weekend:

On Friday, the Bucks (Penn.) Local News informed readers of two birthday parties — sponsored by different organizations, but both using the same “actors” to commemorate the 281st anniversary of George Washington’s birth, and similarly situated near the Delaware River that Washington famously crossed on Christmas Night 1776 — were scheduled for Sunday in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County. The event sponsored by the Friends of Washington Crossing Park would include cupcakes at 1:30 p.m.; a couple hours later, the Washington Crossing Foundation’s event would feature “General Washington (using) his sword to cut an enormous birthday cake.”

The Atlantic dug deep into its archives to unearth an article from 1904 in which an excerpt from the memoir of political journalist Henry Villard recalled Abraham Lincoln’s fondness for risqué storytelling: “I must say frankly that, although I found him most approachable, good-natured, and full of wit and humor, I could not take a real personal liking to the man, owing to an inborn weakness for which he was even then notorious and so remained during his great public career. He was inordinately fond of jokes, anecdotes, and stories. He loved to hear them, and still more to tell them himself out of the inexhaustible supply provided by his good memory and his fertile fancy. There would have been no harm in this but for the fact that, the coarser the joke, the lower the anecdote, and the more risky the story, the more he enjoyed them, especially when they were of his own invention.”

Reporting for the Los Angeles Times, David Ng wrote Monday regarding the recent announcement that George Washington will (finally) get his own presidential library: “Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of Washington, has spent the last several years raising $100 million to construct an official library on its scenic grounds. Organizers announced on Friday — just in time for Presidents Day weekend — an opening date of Sept. 27. The library's website states that it will be the only presidential library built and maintained without government funding.”

Also Monday, Time Magazine executive editor Michael Duffy and deputy managing editor Nancy Gibbs appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show “to celebrate Presidents’ Day.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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