The unveiling of the new White House dog brings to mind, naturally, the seminal research on the strategic use of presidential pets—which was detailed here many months ago. Here is how I summarized the key finding of my colleagues James Lebovic, Forrest Maltzman, Elizabeth Saunders, and Emma Furth:
Drawing on 50 years of news coverage of presidential pets, the authors show that such stories are more likely when the president is caught up in a scandal or waging war—exactly what one would expect if Millie or Buddy or Bo was meant to distract the public. However, when the economy is struggling, the opposite is true: presidents appear reluctant to be seen gamboling with their pets on the South Lawn when Americans are suffering.
Clearly, as Sarah Kliff suggests, trouble is about to befall Obama, and he is trying to distract us.