For every action there is an equal and opposing reaction — it’s true in science and true in journalism. The nation had a good long chuckle at the flailing midriff of Britney Spears at last Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards. But then the press got impressive mileage out of saying shame on us. “What does it say that we’re excoriating a young woman for a little thickness in the middle?” wondered AP “national writer” Jocelyn Noveck in a story the Tribune put on the front page of its Wednesday Tempo section. She’s had two kids, for God’s sake! Would a guy “have been subjected to the same standards?” Noveck had her doubts.

Columnist Esther J. Cepeda did the honors in Thursday’s Sun-Times. “Yes, she’s a disastrous mother, singer and, at least on Sunday, a terrible dancer,” said Cepeda. “But don’t say she didn’t look good.” And on Friday the Sun-Times editorial page itself stepped in. No matter how terrible she was, thundered “A Thin Excuse for Mocking Britney,” “she didn’t deserve the ridicule heaped on her by the media for being fleshy. No one does.” The Sun-Times perceived that the ridicule “says something upsetting about this culture’s attitudes toward women and motherhood.”

Fer sure. How many minutes till the next outrage?