Several media outlets have again pulled or edited already-published articles about the activities of President Barack Obama’s daughter, even though the stories appeared to pose no active security risk to the first family.
On Thursday, 14-year-old Malia Obama attended a concert by the British boy band One Direction at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., flanked by Secret Service agents who attempted unsuccessfully to blend in with the crowd of mostly pre-teen girls.
At one point during the concert, the boy bands’ teen heartthrobs sang, “You’re insecure, Dunno what for, You’re turning heads when you walk through the door” — words that managed to take on some meaning for Malia, who looked less than enthused by the presence of multiple middle-aged federal agents at her side.
On Friday, the story was picked up by The Huffington Post, which ran the headline, “Malia Obama, One Direction Fan: First Daughter Attends Boy Band Concert with Secret Service in Tow.”
Within hours, the entire post was scrubbed from the site without explanation, and the post’s URL was hastily changed to direct users to the site’s celebrity section.
The next day, news aggregation website Buzzfeed ran a story on the event, accompanied by a picture of Malia in attendance at the concert. The headline was “Malia Obama Goes to the One Direction Concert with the Secret Service,” and the story’s picture showed Malia standing awkwardly in front of a scowling male Secret Service agent, with what appear to be two additional female Secret Service agents standing to her right.
By Sunday, the headline had changed to “Secret Service Agent Does Not Appear To Enjoy One Direction Concert,” and Buzzfeed had cropped the photo to remove Malia entirely, leaving only a narrow shot of the unhappy Secret Service agent. Again, the author of the post, Hillary Reinsberg, left no explanation for scrubbing Malia from the story and the picture, nor did she provide any indication to readers that it had occurred.
“I was expecting a little more than a tiny picture of half of a guys face,” Buzzfeed commenter Kyle Thompson wrote on Saturday, after the bizarre change had gone into effect.
“They had originally run a story about Malia Obama attending a One Direction concert, but apparently changed their minds when one of the first comments pointed out that journalistic protocol is that the President’s children be left alone, unless they are related to a story about the President in some way,” another commenter, Ryan Johnson, explained. “One of the clumsier things I’ve seen, well, ever.”
Major outlets like the Associated Press and AFP did not cover Malia’s appearance at the concert at all, while community-driven sites such as TMZ and The Blaze have kept their stories about the event posted, unaltered.
On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that the first family was attending yet another concert — this time, they took in some Beyonce. Many sites, including The Huffington Post, omitted any mention of the Obamas in stories about the concert.
The media have run interference for the first family in the past. In March, several news sites — including The Huffington Post — scrubbed stories about Malia’s planned spring break vacation in Mexico with a dozen friends and 25 Secret Service agents.
At the time, the White House admitted it had asked that the stories be removed only for security reasons.
“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,” Kristina Schake, Communications Director to the First Lady, told Politico.
However, unlike the spring break stories, which were published in advance of Malia’s trip and may have posed a threat, the articles about the first daughter’s appearance at the One Direction concert were published only after the fact.
Additionally, despite repeatedly saying that the first family is off-limits to reporters, the Obama campaign has used images of the president’s daughters in advertisements urging the public to “help the Obamas stand up for working Americans.”
Update (5:23 p.m.): After this story was posted, Buzzfeed updated its story with the following: “NOTE: This story has been edited in keeping with the tradition of respecting the privacy of presidents’ children, after both BuzzFeed commenters and a White House official, Semonti Stephens, pointed to the longstanding practice.”
Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith told The Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle on Twitter that “the point” of the original story was never the first family.
“We thought the notion of these agents being dragged to one direction was funny — that was always the point of the item,” he tweeted. “We heard immediately from commenters, colleagues, and the WH, and decided to do it on our own.”
When asked to confirm that the White House was behind the removal of the Buzzfeed story, Smith criticized Boyle for pressing him.
“Now you’re back to just trolling! It was a good media item though,” Smith said.
Watch One Direction cover Kings of Leon during their May 24 concert: