No That Won't Backfire At All: Questionable Story About Obama's Daughter Disappears From The Web

from the rampant-speculation dept

Generally speaking, the press has something of an implicit agreement that they don’t use underage Presidential offspring in politically tinged stories. For obvious reasons, it’s considered to be a pretty cynical move. Of course, if they actually do something newsworthy, it might be a different story. This afternoon a bunch of stories started appearing, talking about how President Obama’s daughter Malia was traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico as part of a trip with some classmates (and 25 secret service agents). This story was reported on by the AFP wire service, and some tied it to the fact that the State Department recently issued a travel advisory urging Americans to stay away from parts of Mexico. Not surprisingly, some picked up on this story to suggest some sort of… something. Double standard? Hypocrisy? Of course, the details suggest this really was not much of a story. If you actually read the State Department warning, it makes it clear that there is no warning in place for Oaxaca — so this trip doesn’t appear to go against that warning.

It seems likely, then, that the AFP decided to pull back the story once someone pointed that out, but the story is now rapidly disappearing from a variety of online publications (big and small), leading to questions and easy political points about how the story is being “scrubbed.” Google News listed about 27 versions of the story when I looked, and later, following the links, I found almost every single one of them was flat out gone. In most cases, they were replaced with a 404 (including The Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Australian) or sometimes just redirecting people to a front page (Huffington Post and International Business Times). The only version I still found up was at, but it might not last very long.

Now, I tend to think that using the President’s underage kids for a political story is generally a low blow and not particularly nice, but if there is something newsworthy happening, it should be fair game. I also think that, from the sound of it, this story got blown out of proportion by those who didn’t bother to actually read the details of the destination or the State Department’s specific warning which notes no problem at that destination.

But, having said all that, simply having the article disappear completely, rather than putting up a correction or an explanation of what happened, simply fuels both the conspiracy theories and the interest in the story. It’s exactly the wrong way to go about dealing with the situation. There are a variety of possibilities here. The administration may have asked the press to pull the story, which would only generate more interest in the news. The AFP, upon realizing that it shouldn’t have posted the story, may have issued a kill order/retraction of sorts. Or perhaps there’s some other reasoning. But there are good ways to handle these situations and ways that are guaranteed to backfire. Simply making the articles disappear is pretty much guaranteed to backfire and generate more interest in the story, even if it’s a total non-story. Replacing the original story with a “hey, we thought this, but we got it wrong,” would have been much more effective.

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Comments on “No That Won't Backfire At All: Questionable Story About Obama's Daughter Disappears From The Web”

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Gwen (profile) says:

Follow up

Sidwell Friends school spring break is not until next week.

The original story claimed that Malia’s spring break trip started this *past* Saturday.

Also, the only source was anonymous and claimed to be an unspecified Mexican state official.

It’s a dirty trick, and it needs to be stomped out.

Torg (profile) says:

This is just another exhibit showing how the old gatekeepers think they’re still in charge of the gate. In past eras, if they said a story didn’t exist, it didn’t exist. They haven’t yet adapted to the idea that people remember and spread things on their own now.

That said, this is a pretty terrible story. Even if there was a travel advisory for the area the girl went to, those advisories generally come with the assumption that tourists won’t have armed guards. It makes perfect sense for someone with Secret Service protection to be less concerned about a random shooting or mugging or whatever. Whoever read something into this has lost their conspiracy privileges.

Matt T. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think in the sketchier parts of Mexico, a random shooting or mugging would be the least of someone’s concerns, especially the president’s daughter.

If it wasn’t apparently a safe region, there’s no way I (as the president, or the secret service, or anyone else who could make the decision) would have anyone related to a major political figure going down there, with or without protection. But since it’s a safe region, the point is moot.

Mr. Smarta** (profile) says:

Makes sense, considering...

Actually, it would make perfect sense that they would pull a story like this and try to keep it quiet. Posting a story about the president’s daughter traveling somewhere (underage or otherwise) to another country could provide anyone with an anti-American agenda to attempt a kidnapping or something worse in order to control the president. Face it. If you were someone in power and had an underage daughter travel somewhere, you wouldn’t want that story getting out. And if it did get out, you would most likely attempt to have it removed as quickly and as quietly as possible. Even the unimportant guy that I am, I wouldn’t want people to know when my kids are traveling, let alone have it posted on the news.

“Mr. Smarta**’s defenseless daughter traveling on Boofrar Airlines on Flight 31541234512345 to Durkastan” might as well read “Hey! Someone go kidnap his daughter!” as the headlines.

Don’t keep it quiet for the president. I mean I didn’t vote for the guy, that’s for damn sure. But I would keep it quiet for his daughter’s safety. She’s still just a kid/teen.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Let’s see, the President is spending our tax dollars to outfit his kid with a 25-person escort to Mexico and pointing it out is a “low blow”? If she can’t be made safe with a reasonable escort (1-2 people tops), maybe she should stay in the White House or daddy could use his salary to pay the bill. I don’t see why I as a tax payer should pay for her field trip.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

She gets 25 Secret Service agents on her at all times when in the US? Security is about balancing protective measures with risk avoidance, making a cost-benefit analysis. Let’s say that Obama’s kids wanted to tour the front-line in Afghanistan and that doing that safely would require a company of marines and constant air support. Everyone would understand that the right thing to do would be for the girls to not go and spend all that tax-payer money.

Here, it’s the same thing on a smaller scale. They can either put the girl in a dangerous situation and fly over 25 agents, or they can keep her in DC with her normal staff which is probably much smaller. (and at the very least does not need to fly there) The responsible thing to do is for Obama to explain to his kids that no, it’s not his money to spend and that he can’t justify having the American people’s money finance such an expensive security apparatus just so his kids can go visit Mexico. But of course, he instead lets his kid go and makes us pay for it. Excuse me if I find that unacceptable.

And if people have done that in the past, that is no excuse. It is plainly unacceptable for Presidents to be so cavalier with tax-payer money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, we should also prevent the kids from going to movies, to restaurants, to parties, to friends’ houses, or anywhere outside the secret underground bunker where they can protected for the low cost of only 1 secret service agent.

If you’re going to freak out and have a tantrum every time someone under secret service protection is traveling somewhere that requires additional staff, you’re going to spend quite a lot of time hyperventilating over insignificant amounts of taxpayer money.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Thank you very much for your concern for my well-being, but my heart and breathing rates are within normal parameters. As for the significance of taxpayer money, while larger amounts are more problematic and may indeed raise my heart-rate, I disapprove on principle of people who reach into my pocket whether they take a tenth of a penny or $1,000. I disapprove of it even more when they are using my money for the personal gratification of themselves, their friends and family. So, sure, I’m liable to throw tantrums and freak out (aka, write a couple comments on a website) when I hear about people stealing my money.

I’m not sure exactly how many agents it is appropriate to spend on the President’s kids and wife. But I would say 25 is definitely excessive. I would tend to say 3-5 is about as much as is acceptable. Having known the children of a number of executives in dangerous countries who got along just fine with that number, (of people with much less training than secret service agents I might add) I would say that’s good enough for the president’s kids if you keep them out of particularly dangerous areas.

Three Shillings for... says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Hey, guy. You go ahead and hold on to those fractions of pennies. I’m not exactly rolling in dough but I’ll pony up so that the President’s daughter can enjoy a safe field trip abroad.

Of course, I think the only factual bit of information in this is the fact that the President’s daughter has indeed joined her class on a field trip in a safe(r) part of Mexico and is most likely there right now enjoying her stay. I hope she enjoys herself and returns home safely with a new appreciation for other cultures.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I don’t know. But on the page you linked to, it said: “No Secret Service agents were anywhere to be seen in the lobby, according to ABC News? Joe Goldman.” My point was not that Obama’s daughter shouldn’t have gone to Mexico. My point was that it was irresponsible of her father to spend extra tax-payer dollars for it. So sending his kid with insufficient security is one way to do this. Of course, the Bush twins were adults and so if their father said: “I can’t send enough Secret Service to protect you effectively”, they could answer “OK, we’ll risk it.” Given how young Obama’s daughter is, I simply assumed that the “go to Mexico with insufficient security” option was off the table.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

But on the page you linked to, it said: “No Secret Service agents were anywhere to be seen in the lobby, according to ABC News? Joe Goldman.”

Just because they weren’t seen doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
James Bond notwhithstanding, they’re called “secret agents” for a reason…

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

OK, so your assessment that significant extra protection was provided is based on what exactly? I’m not saying it’s a bad assumption, but the article supports only the fact that Bush’s daughters were in Buenos Aires and that they may have put themselves in a dangerous spot. Nothing in there suggests there were significant security arrangements made. So when abc gum asks: “How many were assigned to the Bush twins on their excursions, like to Buenos Aires for example.” my answer is that I don’t know, but that the article in question suggests few, not many.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Neither does the President of the United States. There are plenty of fetters. If he started abusing his power wantonly to comply with demands by kidnappers, the cabinet would most likely declare him incompetent and the VP would take over. Now of course, Cheney in charge isn’t exactly what I would call peachy, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

> She gets 25 Secret Service agents on her at
> all times when in the US?

Who said anything about “at all times”? Think about it. Protection isn’t a 9-5 job. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job. And agents are people who need food and sleep just like everyone else. So what does that mean? Yep, shifts. Those 25 agents are really three 8-hour shifts of eight agents a piece.

A little common sense goes a long way.

Gwendolyn Of The Shire (profile) says:

Origin of the story...

I’m trying to figure out the origin of the story.

On March 16th, the website Oaxaca Times made this blog post:

“Malia Ann Obama, daughter of U.S. President Barack Obama, arrived on a commercial flight to Oaxaca for a private tour on the evening of Friday March 16th.

Surrounded by a security team, Malia Obama arrived at the headquarters of the commercial airport in the capital to join a group of twelve young teenagers from a United Airlines commercial airliner departed from Houston, Texas.

Official information states that President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama’s oldest daughter, who is thirteen, has an escort of twenty-five agents composed of marines and members of the Secret Service. All will wear black suits and use radio communication.

Private security escorted Malia Obama in three armored trucks to Hotel Camino Real, located in Oaxaca’s Historic Central District.

According to her leaked agenda, during the weekend Malia will visit the “El Arbol del Tule,” the archaeological site of Monte Alban, and the towns of San Martin Tilcajete, the site of many local handicrafts, and San Bartolo Coyotepec, in addition to the main attractions in the city of Oaxaca.

Malia’s is one of two Obama children. Her sister, Sasha, is 10 years old.”

The earliest references to Malia (supposedly) being in Mexico in a reputable source come from the online site of a Mexican newspaper, El Universal.

This was published yesterday:

It contains a photo that it credits (oddly) to Xinhua. Xinhua does not appear to have any stories about Malia being in Mexico.

El Universal’s story claims that Malia arrived in Oaxaca on Friday , flying in from Houston. The story claims that Malia is being protected not only by Secret Service but also the Marines.

It sources the story to unnamed “witnesses.”

Now similar photos are also on the Web, apparently traceable back to the Twitter account “hugovelasco18”, the Twitter account of Hugo Alberto Velasco, a photog for Notimex.

Gaius Obvious says:

Re: Then the White House itself was fooled too

The White House confirmed Malia is in Oaxaca and is ‘safe’ following the earthquake there.

“‘In light of today?s earthquake, we can confirm that Malia Obama is safe and was never in danger,’ the first lady?s communications director Kristina Schake said in a written statement.”

Gwendolyn Of The Shire (profile) says:

Yahoo Contributor Network

Steve: my weapon-of-choice is Google. Do you know if the Yahoo! contributor piece pre-dates 3/16 at around 11 p.m.??

I had a feeling that this is all a bunch of journalists copying and pasting from one another, which makes me sad and slightly depressed (as a former student journalist and journalism major when I was in college).

At any rate, the biggest tip-off that something is amiss is when journalists don’t name their sources.

This happened multiple times as I see it:

* Brendan Missett (who as I see is the first in time, although perhaps Yahoo! beat him) has a story with literally no attribution. It looks like somebody copied a press release verbatim.

* Hugo Albert Velasco (of Notimex?) tweets a photo, it’s not clear he actually was the person who took it (there’s really not a whole lot of description but then again, you know, Twitter’s 140 character limit sort of deters that). Any case, it’s odd that his employer doesn’t seem to be the one all over this story, don’t you think?

* El Universal and the other Mexican media seem to be repeating Missett with spotty attribution. Not clear if they did any independent verification and if so, how much.

* AFP seems to be repeating what the Mexican media said.

* Everyone else attributes it to AFP.

Very, very murky.

Now to be sure, I must admit that I have no idea where the First Daughter is right now. I can’t prove to you she’s not in Oaxaca.

But the provenance of all these news stories must make one wonder, and my guess is that we have a lot of journalists who aren’t really doing good journalism, and it’s quite possible, as I stated earlier (perhaps a bit too confidently, although I still suspect) this could very well be a Republican dirty trick, and you’ve got inexperienced or incompetent journos aiding and abetting them.

(It would not be the first time!)

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Yahoo Contributor Network

Yes, it is possible that various papers, journalists, and bloggers pulled the story so they wouldn’t look stupid. Given the current focus on fact checking, maybe they are paying attention. Sure, they could have posted a correction, but given the choice between saying they were wrong and just taking down the story, perhaps they opted just to take it down.

And we have already seen that once a story that is wrong gets out in public, it often outlives the corrections if the wrong story serves someone’s agenda. God knows there is a lot of politically motivated misinformation out there that seems to have a life of its own.

Steve says:

Check this mexican news story out (had to run through Google translator):

“Malia Ann Obama, eldest daughter of U.S. President, Barak Obama, vacationing in this destination accompanied by a group of friends and a discreet but tight security.”

25 Secret Service agents would hardly be “discreet”.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’d guess that they’ll need a lot more protection for her when every bloody website on the net tells everyone else on the net that she’s there, than they would have needed if everyone with a website had minded their own bloody business. Maybe that’s why other responsible websites chose to pull the story. I’d be happy to see this one disappear, too, as long as it was voluntary.

John Q says:

Presidents Daughter

Okay, maybe it’s a lot of nothing. But, every web site but a few removes the story. That seems fishy, especially given the number of web sites that there are in the world. And then she travelled to Oaxaca, Mexico on United from Houston with her class? Oh, Flight UA 4664 is operated by EXPRESSJET AIRLINES DBA UNITED EXPRESS. It is an Embrae Air and contains approximately 50 seats. It leaves Houston at 620 pm and arrives at 758 pm. THere is only 1 flight from Houston on United. The Presidents daughter does not fly anywhere on an Embrae air, especially overseas. And certainley not without a security detail, no matter how small or large. Be real, the story was censored and removed from the Web, even though we all know that is impossible.

Overcast (profile) says:

If you’re going to freak out and have a tantrum every time someone under secret service protection is traveling somewhere that requires additional staff, you’re going to spend quite a lot of time hyperventilating over insignificant amounts of taxpayer money.

LOL, problem is they expect no one to complain about “insignificant amounts” 3 trillion times over.

They are all significant amounts. So hire private security for a work related trip and try the ‘insignificant amount’ spin on them and see how quick it lands you in an unemployment line, but for some reason people just want to ignore the cash government wastes – all while the US Government is charging 40 cents of every dollar to the big bond credit card.

Overcast (profile) says:

The responsible thing to do is for Obama to explain to his kids that no, it’s not his money to spend and that he can’t justify having the American people’s money finance such an expensive security apparatus just so his kids can go visit Mexico. But of course, he instead lets his kid go and makes us pay for it. Excuse me if I find that unacceptable.

Indeed, well said.

But the problem is – we don’t have a responsible administration, they spend cash like an idiot with a credit card – literally.

FormerAC (profile) says:

Before we get all ...

Before we get our conspiracy theories all warmed up, perhaps there is a simple explanation …

Kidnapping is still a big industry in Mexico, right?
The drug cartels are still at war with, well, basically anyone who isn’t in their cartel, right?

Maybe they were just trying to keep some details of her visit a secret to avoid painting a great big target on her.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

With all thats going on

Just goes to show, how inept our lamestream media is.

This story was reported on by the AFP wire service, and some tied it to the fact that the State Department recently issued a travel advisory urging Americans to stay away from parts of Mexico.

What bullshit. Sooooo stupid.

I agree with FormerAC, most likely trying to not advertise her whereabouts.

Now as for trying to scrub the stories, that is where the conspiracy lies.

“The administration may have asked the press to pull the story” Gasp! El Presidente asked a “news” publication to censor? No. way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why would you send your children to a war zone?

Yes Mexico today is a war zone, 80% of the police works for the drug cartels that are the de facto power in many locations, bodies are found by the dozens scathered all over the country, the drug lords have their own mobile radio infra-structure the Zeta’s are ex-special-forces.

Why would you send your kid to a place like that?

Now since most of us are hardwired to care for our young, I feel that this will get a pass from the general public is not like the president is doing this for any apparent political reason, it seems a truly selfish interest of caring for his young and that everybody can relate to.

He could have send in the Marines too and I doubt people would care or make a fuss about it unless of course people found out that their own are not being protected the same, he was modest sending in just the secret service even though others don’t have that kind of protection.

Now there is a catch, if this is done after the risk has passed people will go nutts on it, because then it is viewed as censorship, right now it is justified censorship, everyone will let this one pass because it appears to be for the protection of children, once the risk is gone the justification for it to continue also goes away.

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