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
    FormerAC (profile), 20 Mar 2012 @ 7:21am

    Re: Malia

    If her parents had ANY concern for her having a normal life, he wouldn't have run for President. The moment he ran for President, any chance of a normal life ended. 25 Secret Service? Yeah, it will be a normal field trip with her class, lol.

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