Gangnam Vile? Obama’s Handshake With Psy Draws Fierce Media Reaction

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By Christopher Zara | December 11, 2012 6:05 AM EST

In the '70s, we had Richard Nixon and Elvis. In the '80s, Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson. Now, a new photo pairing of a president and pop icon is making the rounds: Barack Obama and Psy. But this being the 21st century, no photo of a president is complete without a heavily polarized reaction from the media.  

To recap, Obama and his family saw the South Korean rapper Psy perform at the annual “Christmas in Washington” charity event on Sunday night, just two days after the “Gangnam Style” sensation apologized for anti-American lyrics he sang during a Bush-era performance protesting the Iraq War.

Obama’s face-to-face encounter with the suddenly controversial rapper was either appropriately measured or an insult to the American military, depending on who is doing the reporting. As USA Today noted on Monday, the president willfully snubbed the rapper after the show, when he thanked some of the performers by name, including Conan O’Brien and Diana Ross, but made no mention of Psy himself.

Other news outlets wrote that the president carefully handled a touchy situation. In the spirit of the holidays, Obama overlooked the controversy and attended the charity event, which raised money for Children’s National Medical Center. At the same time, the president made the smart decision by not thanking the rapper personally.   

Some conservative news outlets begged to differ, however. After a photo surfaced of Obama and Psy shaking hands, several news outlets capitalized on the opportunity to use it as evidence of the anti-Americanism of which Democrats are often accused.   

“Killer photo op,” wrote right-leaning website Twitchy. “Obama and daughters meet U.S. troop-slay rapper Psy.”

At Breitbart.com, Christian Toto’s take on the evening was that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were “cozying up” to an anti-American rapper. “Had President-elect Mitt Romney posed for pictures with someone who once wished violent death upon the family members of U.S. soldiers, the story would be swirling through the mainstream media for days,” he theorized.

Over at the Atlantic Wire, Alexander Abad-Santos culled together several reactions to the photo from Twitter users who seemed to revel in bashing Obama for shaking hands with Psy, as if punching the rapper in the face would have somehow been more presidential. 

The annual “Christmas in Washington” charity concert was first held 31 years ago. The White House does not choose which performers appear at the event, but presidents traditionally attend.

Psy, 34, became a viral sensation this summer when his “Gangnam Style” video was posted on YouTube. It has since passed Justin Bieber’s “Baby” to become the most-watched online video of all time, with more than 900 million views.

During an anti-American protest performance, which took place eight years before Psy was known in the United States, the rapper performed a song called “Dear American,” which was written by a South Korean rock band. The Korean lyrics were translated into English on CNN’s iReport in early October and widely picked up by the media last week.

The song, performed amid widespread protests in Seoul, called for the slow and painful killing of “Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives.”

The rapper had also performed in a 2002 concert in which he smashed a model of a U.S. tank to protest the death of two schoolgirls killed by an American tank in South Korea.

Psy apologized in a statement released Friday, explaining that the performances were part of “deeply emotional” protests of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words,” he said in the statement. “While I’m grateful for the freedom to express oneself, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate, and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted.”

Sunday's "Christmas in Washington" concert will be broadcast on TNT on Dec. 21. It was the fourth time the Obama family attended.

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