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Opinion: If Pandas Could Tweet

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Opinion: If Pandas Could Tweet

Yesterday the National Zoo made the inexplicable decision to "live-tweet" the artificial insemination of Mei Xiang, a 13-year-old giant panda.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with captive breeding. Animal husbandry techniques, including artificial insemination, have been practiced for centuries.

There is also nothing wrong with gall bladder surgery.

That said, in 1965 the world did not need to see a photograph of President Lyndon Johnson’s scar.

The ad hoc decision by Johnson to display his not-yet-healed wound disturbed many and befuddled others. One letter-writer to the New York Times mused, "God forbid he should have a hemorrhoidectomy!"

On Twitter anything goes. The price one pays for poor taste is the loss of followers. Or not. Charlie Sheen and more recently Jose Canseco seem to benefit from pushing the envelope with their tweets.

The National Zoo, however, is a prestigious body. A publicity stunt with seemingly no other purpose but to drum up a few hundred new Twitter followers is surely beneath an organization created in 1889 by an Act of Congress and part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Prior to their exercise in live-tweeting, @nationalzoo had nearly 26,000 followers.

By the time details that included a “vial of 100,000 million sperm,” the declaration "It only takes one!" and a photo of doctors “inserting a thin tube about 12 inches into Mei” had been shared, the zoo added a few more than 600 followers.

To what end? Sheen and Canseco-esque attention grabbing for the sake of attention?

A simple press release, accompanying tweet and adorable photo would have sufficed.

If the zoo wants publicity it is destined for plenty when its communications team rolls out tidbits from the inevitable baby bump watch. We know how that story goes -- this is not the first time the public will be kept abreast of every minor hint that a panda in D.C. may be expecting -- only the ending is indefinite.

In America we have plenty of cultural icons to exploit. Countless humans crave the opportunity. We should leave pandas out of the dysfunctional equation of tabloid fame.

The mysterious habitat of the panda, its importance in Asian folklore and role in modern diplomacy has created for it an iconic status symbolizing poise, endurance and conservation.

We should treat the panda and all zoological wonders in captivity with dignity.

While it may be your choice to live-tweet a medical procedure, a tasty meal or the details of a work commute gone bad, Mei Xiang could not be consulted as to her opinion of the matter.

Giant pandas, by the way, do not belong to the National Zoo. They also don’t belong to America. All giant pandas and their offspring are the property of China. They are on loan, just like the trillion dollars the Chinese have been kind of enough to advance us.

It is in our best interest that China should not want either returned anytime soon.


Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant.  His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to chuckthies@gmail.com or tweet at @chuckthies.

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