- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

Go ahead. Talk about the weather. We dare you.

Polite chitchat, it’s not. When President Obama blithely chided Washington locals for shuttering their schools during a junior-grade snowfall, righteous indignation and a media blizzard followed.

More than 500 news stories about Mr. Obama’s now infamous “snow jab” appeared within hours. Pundits offered weather puns about icy reactions and flaky behavior. And oh, the irony.

“We´re going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town,” Mr. Obama said.

Of course, it took a 15-car motorcade to get the president and first lady Michelle Obama for an appointment at their daughter’s school on Thursday, a moment not lost on journalists.

“The tough Chicagoans arrived back at the White House shortly before 10 a.m.,” said the Christian Science Monitor.

The Washington City paper reported a 2,000 percent surge in its Web traffic as cold-hearted bloggers defended their turf. The global press chimed in.

“Obama no wimp in winter, but try Ottawa,” Toronto’s Globe and Mail advised.

Perhaps the press already was primed for bad weather. The inauguration had been a deep freeze. Al Gore warned Congress about global warming while flakes swirled outside the U.S. Capitol. A fatal ice storm had gripped the Midwest.

“People can’t get enough of weather news. Weather is the only thing all of us encounter day in, day out - it affects everybody, it’s the most common source of conversation,” said Ken Reeves, a meteorologist for AccuWeather.

He has a point. Americans take in 300 billion weather forecasts a year, with weather typically ranking among the top 10 news stories each year, according to the Pew Research Center.

“So the president throws down the gauntlet about weather, and everybody’s going to react,” Mr. Reeves added.

But Mr. Obama’s press travails are nothing compared with those of groundhog Punxsutawney Phil.

“Media credentialing” has begun for Phil’s big moment on Monday, when the corpulent marmot emerges to make his weather prediction from what appears to be a shoe box on a sound stage, as cameras roll and a crowd roars.

The global media is all over this one, too.

“We have two TV crews coming from Japan, one from Germany, one from Russia,” said Mary Jude, spokeswoman for the event.

“The foreign press is much more interested in the historic aspects of Phil - how he started, and so on. The American press wants more news about the parties, the events,” she said.

The great state of Pennsylvania is prepared to showcase the Phil brand.

Festivities begin Friday - including “Groundhog Comedy Club Night,” the “Groundhog Wine Trail Food & Arts Fest” and the “Prognosticators Ball.”

In a nod to either Elvis or Vegas, the city of Punxsutawney also offers “Phil’s Wedding Chapel,” with nuptials performed by the mayor.

“It all goes to show you that a lot of people want to know if we’re getting six more weeks of winter or spring,” observed Ms. Jude.

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