Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Malia and the Press

When the Obamas moved into the White House, they wanted their daughters to have as normal a life as possible. They quickly established a rule that the daughters are off-limits to the press unless they are with their parents. This is a fair request. It would have been nice if the press had respected a similar boundary with the Bush twins. Instead, every time they got caught with alcohol while still 20 it made the evening news and Leno's monologue.

In practice, the rule on the Obama girls means that the President can use them for political gain but they are otherwise off-limits. That rule has been stretched a bit so that there was almost no press coverage when the girls went skiing in Aspen in February with their mother.

The rule was strongly enforced last week when Malia went on a trip to Mexico with a dozen classmates and 25 Secret Service agents. At the White House's insistence, the wire service story about this trip was pulled in order to give the kids some privacy. The trip came back into the news after an earthquake but only to say that Malia is safe and unharmed.

There are some aspects of this that make me uneasy. I agree that it is inappropriate to send reporters along with the trip but why is it out of bounds to simply report that she went on the trip? This was a minor story (at least until it was pulled) and did not invade on her privacy. I wonder if the story was pulled for political reasons rather than because of issues of privacy? So far this year Malia spent Christmas break (or is that Winter Holiday?) in Hawaii with her parents, then went skiing in an exclusive resort with her mother and sister. Now she is off on an international jaunt. At a time that her father thinks that the rich are keeping too much of their earnings, it looks bad for the President's daughter to be living like the 1% at taxpayer expense. Was the story really pulled over privacy or because the Obamas' lavish lifestyle looks bad? Did the White House kill the story on Malia's behalf or on Barack's?

I am also worried about the power of the White House to pull stories internationally. It started with a French wire service and was picked up by the London Telegraph. Both killed it. What other, more important, stories has the White House killed?

I am not worried about Malia's destination. Some people including Santorum questioned the wisdom of sending the First Daughter to a country that the State Department has issued warnings against. Mexico is a big country and several places are quite safe, especially with a Secret Service escort. I expect that the State Department vetted the destination.

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