Last week, we told you about the growing debate over the propriety of greeting business colleagues with hugs or kisses rather than handshakes. Little did we know that President Bush would be upping the ante with his surprise (and surprise may be too mild a word) "back rub" of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at last week's G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The 2-second neck and shoulder massage was captured on tape and has become one of the hottest videos on YouTube.com and elsewhere. The clip shows the startled Merkel reacting to Bush's actions by arching back and raising her arms, fists clenched. She later is seen with a rather wan smile.
The video has set both the mainstream media and the blogosphere abuzz with serious and tongue-in-cheek reactions. Many say Bush's action amounted to sexual harassment. Others say it was nothing more than an innocent gesture of affection. Those saying the back rub was appropriate under the circumstances appear to be a distinct minority.
"The act was demeaning to the leader of another nation," The editorial board of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote. "It also demonstrates insensitive (if not out-of-bounds) workplace conduct. Since this was an international summit, we'll cite the United Nations' sexual harassment guidelines. 'Unwelcome behavior is the critical word,' the document says, followed by a listing of objectionable actions. About halfway down the list: 'Neck massage.'"
In a posting on the Majikthise blog, Lindsay Beyerstein wrote that, " Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts 'casually' giving you a back rub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch."
The host of The Republic of T. blog, identified as "Terrance," posted a sequence of screen captures of the incident under the headings, "The Approach," "The Grope," and "The Getaway." "The German chancellor got an unwelcome grope from our frat-boy-in-chief," Terrance wrote.
Fox News political analyst Karen Hanretty said the outraged reactions show that, "President Bush just can't win."
"Aren't these the same women who have been angry about cowboy diplomacy?" Hanretty asked. "Do they want a kinder, more sensitive Bush--or a cowboy?"
Sources: CNN.com , SeattlePI.com, Majikthise, The Republic of T., NYPost.com