When Amory Gutierrez from the Pleasanton Weekly wanted to do a puff piece on the Obamas’ helicopter, “Marine One,” the White House put out the welcome mat. After all, Pleasanton is a very upscale bedroom community attached to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Democrats outnumber Republicans there more than two to one. Gutierrez, however, did not keep to the anticipated script. Her piece gushed over the helicopter flown by a Marine crew, but then went on to repeat what the Marines had told her. In nearly four years of flying the Obamas, Michelle Obama had never so much as verbally acknowledged the crew’s existence.
Intentional or not, the one line in the otherwise celebratory piece made the first lady look aloof and disdainful of the military — or as some people put it, just plain snooty. The White House moved decisively into damage-control mode.
Now, one might see this move as more than a bit of an overreaction. After all, the Pleasanton Weekly is not exactly the Washington Post. But, in many circles, Michelle Obama has a major image problem. There is her statement that she was not proud of her country that seems continually to follow her. Then, there were the vacations that were roundly criticized for masquerading as state visits. Consequently, this small weekly in an overwhelmingly Democratic district was being pressured to remove the line that further tarnished the first lady’s image.
Did the Marines not say this? Was the line inaccurate? Gina Channell-Allen, the president of the Pleasanton Weekly, never contested the veracity of the line. In justifying her yielding to the “request” from the White House to have it removed, she made an argument so torturous as to remind us that the First Amendment is too important to be left to journalists to defend.
Channell-Allen told readers that she had been asked by the White House to take out something that compromised the president’s security, and while she was doing this, taking out the other line was no big deal. In fact, Channell-Allen conflated the two requests as if one were part of the other. Here is how she put it: “They also mentioned taking out a line that could be misconstrued about the first lady. It wasn’t going to change lives or destroy administrations by leaving it in or taking it out. When you’ve just been asked to do something to keep the president of the United States from harm, taking a line out about something like that is not a question. Even journalists have to choose our battles.”
Asking the Office of the First Lady for a comment on why it was necessary to pressure a small weekly newspaper to edit its story, The Daily Caller received an email from Michelle Obama’s press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, that denied the office knew of the story or ever had interacted with the paper.