Scrubbing of Many News Outlets’ Stories About Malia Obama’s Mexico Trip

TechDirt has what strikes me as a good take on the story. (For more, see Politico, Hit & Run (Reason), and Atlantic.) The brief summary: Agence France Press ran a story about President Obama’s daughter’s Mexico trip (not clear whether this was just a trip with friends that she chose to go on, or a school class trip that would have happened even without her), chaperoned by, among others, 25 Secret Service agents. Many outlets picked it up. Then the story vanished from the outlets, sometimes replaced with Error 404 (Page Not Found) and sometimes with completely different stories.

Now the removal might well have been voluntary. There is apparently a tradition of keeping the Presidents’ children largely out of the limelight, and the story might have posed a security hazard to Malia Obama. (Contrary to some initial comments, the State Department Mexico travel advisory doesn’t list the state to which Malia Obama was traveling as a general high-risk area, but having a story in the news about the President’s daughter’s visit can still create a particularized risk.) It might be that the White House asked the news outlets for an accommodation on this score, and the outlets in their editorial judgment agreed.

But, as TechDirt points out, simply vanishing the story strikes me as quite the wrong move, either on the outlets’ part or on the White House’s part if that’s what it asked for (or on Agence France Press’s part if it asked its recipients to do this). Redacting the location of the trip and so noting, or even replacing the story with a note explaining that the outlet’s policy is to try to let the President’s children maintain their privacy, would have been a much better approach, both in minimizing public attention and in setting a good precedent for the future.

I should note, by the way, that I generally agree that the President’s children should generally be left in peace to the extent possible, and while the initial story had some newsworthy elements — the risk not just to the President’s family but to the nation’s foreign affairs in case the President’s daughter was attacked in Mexico, and the use of the 25 Secret Service agents, which seems to make the trip pretty expensive for taxpayers — my inclination is to defer to the judgment of the White House about such matters. But at this point, the scrubbing has become the story, and thus seems to me a legitimate basis for writing about this (plus I quite doubt that the repetition of the story on this blog will pose any security risk).

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