First lady Michelle Obama is under fire after she appeared as a long-distance award presenter on the Oscars Sunday evening, flanked by active-duty American service members.
The well-dressed members of the military stood attentively behind the first lady inside the White House as she presented the award for best picture to the movie “Argo.”
But the use of those service members has left some of her critics fuming.
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, noted that Michelle Obama didn’t even acknowledge the military during her appearance:
She declared of the Best Picture nominees, “They reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage within ourselves.” Alas, none of the films nor her aides reminded her to mention the military, not those personnel behind her nor those serving overseas, an odd omission for the White House that nevertheless was pleased to have them arrayed behind her like, well, set decoration.
Rubin wrote that the military personnel were used as nothing more than “props” for the first lady to “intrude” on American entertainment.
“Should our troops be used as Michelle’s Oscar props?” wondered conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Monday morning.
And a man who was once responsible for all public relations in the Department of Veterans Affairs said the use of the military may have crossed an ethical line.
Ed Timperlake — a former Marine fighter pilot who served as an assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs under President George H.W. Bush — told The Daily Caller in an interview Monday that using the military as “window dressing” for a commercial event almost certainly “crossed the line” into “statist propaganda.”
“I thought it was unseemly,” said Timperlake, recounting his reaction while watching the Oscars. “I think the use of the service members crossed the line.”
“Putting her up on the stage to award an Oscar is fine. However, putting uniformed military behind her is coming up, maybe perhaps crossing the line where you’re using active duty military in their dress uniform as a prop … for commercial purposes,” Timperlake said.
Military regulations prohibit “the wearing of a military uniform during or in connection with the furtherance of any political or commercial interests,” according to the Department of Defense.
And although the Pentagon may make special exceptions to Hollywood for public relations purposes, Timperlake explained, the first lady’s use of the military went beyond anything he would have supported as a senior administration official.
“America should be a little bit concerned, if not more concerned,” he suggested. “When you focus on the first lady with military members behind her that have nothing whatsoever to do with the event other than to essentially provide window dressing — which is harsh, but true — I think they were up against, if not crossing the line and that’s a slippery slope I don’t think America wants to be on.”
The fact that Michelle Obama did not acknowledge the attending service members only serves to emphasize the criticism, Timperlake said.
“That means they were just there for show. It’s even worse. It takes it to a different level. She didn’t even justify [it],” he said. “They were just there for the visuals.”
Kristina Schake, the first lady’s communications director told reporters in a statement Monday night that “[t]he Academy Awards approached the First Lady about being a part of the ceremony. As a movie lover, she was honored to present the award and celebrate the artists who inspire us all — especially our young people — with their passion, skill and imagination.”
UPDATE: The first lady’s office told TheDC Monday night that the service members were White House military social aides who worked at the Governor’s Dinner earlier in the evening. They are officers with military assignments elsewhere in the Washington area and assist the White House as needed.