Internet Threatens Privacy of Presidential Children

Wednesday, 21 Mar 2012 10:20 AM

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The gentleman’s agreement between the usually voracious White House press corps and administration officials about protecting the privacy of the president’s young children may not be able to survive the Internet age. The recent story about President Barack Obama’s 13-year-old daughter Malia’s trip to Mexico with school friends is a case in point.

The initial reports about the spring-break trip came from a reporter for Agence France-Presse based in Mexico and was based on Mexican police sources, The Washington Post reported. It was quickly published on websites across the globe before White House officials asked them to remove the reports. The request was futile; it only called more attention to the story.

Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University who studies the media and the presidency, said the incident illustrates how hard it is to shield anyone in the age of “globalized news.”

“The problem with the Internet is that everyone sees themselves as a newsmaker,” Kumar told the Post, adding, “You’re dealing with a different universe now. Everyone has an iPhone and takes pictures. … The conditions have changed, and it’s much harder to control information.”

The White House press corps has long abided by informal rules banning coverage of presidential children outside of official events. The rules have existed through numerous administrations by informal agreement with the White House Correspondents’ Association, the Post reported.

“There’s a general feeling among the press corps that it wants to be respectful” of the president’s children, Caren Bohan, the White House reporter for Reuters who is president of the group, told the Post. “I’m a parent of two school-age children myself, so I completely understand that their parents want privacy for them. I think a lot of reporters respect that.”

There are exceptions to the rules and administrations are not beyond bending them when it suits their purpose. One exception is legal trouble, the Post reported. The daughters of President George W. Bush were both cited for underage drinking and the incidents were widely reported.

Presidents are also not shy about using their children to score political points, such as appearances in campaign material.

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