Story takedown at White House request is disturbing

Friday, March 23, 2012

A disturbing incident this week makes one wonder about presidential power and press pusillanimity.

When President Barack Obama’s daughter, Malia, went on a school trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, Agence France-Presse reported the fact, including the detail that 25 Secret Service agents went with her. Various websites picked up the story, including the Huffington Post, Yahoo and the International Business Times, according to Politico.

Then a strange thing happened. On March 19 the story began disappearing. It vanished from AFP and other sites. Links to it went nowhere. Scrubbed, stripped, taken down, erased.

Why?

Kristina Schake, communications director for First Lady Michelle Obama, confirmed to Politico that the White House had asked for the takedowns.

“From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.”

Of course we want presidential families to be safe wherever they go. Mexico is a dangerous place, although there is no State Department warning against traveling to Oaxaca, according to the March 23 New York Times. The Times, noting the White House demands to remove the Malia class-trip story, further reported that “the visit was never a secret in Mexico.”

So let’s review. Presidential daughter goes to dangerous Mexico. Needs 25 taxpayer-paid Secret Service agents for protection. To preserve her safety, press must remain silent. Press obediently effaces most traces. Meanwhile, everyone in Oaxaca already knows she’s there. And the State Department says the city is not dangerous.

Malia Obama is allowed to travel to Mexico and needs 25 Secret Service agents? As a Darren McGavin character in an old newspaper movie said, “That’s NEWS! This is a NEWSpaper!” Why would the American public not be allowed to know something that Oaxaca residents know? And if Oaxaca is not dangerous, then why the takedown demands from the White House?

The official stance on this is incoherent. But even worse is the news media’s willingness to cave in and “unreport” a story worthy of notice.

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