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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  1. icon
    PrometheeFeu (profile), 19 Mar 2012 @ 9:48pm

    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.

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