Reports Of Malia Obama’s Trip To Mexico Scrubbed From News Sites
If you happened to see pictures of the First Family walking across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday morning, you would have noticed that one person was missing. The Obama’s eldest daughter was not with the family, and when I happened to see a clip from the pool camera on Sunday afternoon on CNN or some such channel, no mention was made of why she wasn’t there. It wasn’t until later that day that I happened across a news item via a link on Twitter that Malia Obama was on a spring Break trip with classmates to Mexico. This raised some eyebrows, apparently, because of the ongoing violence in Mexico itself and existing State Department Travel Advisories. The article I read, which I didn’t make particular note of, noted that there was a full contingent of Secret Service and Mexican police with the First Daughter’s group. Like I said, I didn’t think much of it, let the kid have a good time.
Then, yesterday, the story started to disappear from the Internet:
On Monday, the AFP reported that Obama’s daughter was vacationing abroad, along with a number of friends and 25 Secret Service agents. The story was picked up by Yahoo, the Huffington Post, and the International Business Times, as well as UK publications like the Daily Mail and the Telegraph and other overseas publications like The Australian.
But on Monday night, the story had been removed from those sites .The AFP page for the story now links to a story titled “Senegal music star Youssou Ndour hits campaign trail,” as does the Yahoo page. The Huffington Post page now links directly back to the Huffington Post homepage. The Daily Mail, Telegraph, and Australian stories now lead to 404 error pages, reading “page not found.” The International Business Times story also links to the IBT homepage, though a version of the original story still exists here.
The First Lady’s Director of Communications confirms that this was the result of a White House effort, or at least that it happened after the White House had spoken with members of the media:
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.
This is a fair point, and quite obviously the safety of Malia Obama and those accompanying her should be of the highest priority. There was a time when a story like this never would have been published at all, and perhaps that’s the choice that the media should have made here. But, they didn’t, and as Techdirt points out there’s something a little troublesome about how the aftermath of this was handled:
[S]imply 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.
Eugene Volokh goes on to point out that there were better ways to handle this matter, such as redacting the story to omit references to the exact location where the party was vacationing and the nature of the security being provided, that makes sense. But pulling story without explanation after it’s already been published widely around the Internet doesn’t really strike me as a good journalistic practice.
As a general rule, politicians kids should be off limits and the comings and goings of a 13 year old are hardly news (although the consequences of something going wrong on a trip like of this are rather apparent, I think). That said, once something is reported the media ought to do more than just memory hole the story without explanation.