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Judicial Watch Fakes Outrage At First Lady's Africa Trip

October 04, 2011 6:00 pm ET by Simon Maloy

The axe-grinding good-government poseurs at Judicial Watch are in a twist over First Lady Michelle Obama's June trip to South Africa and Botswana, calling it "a nice taxpayer-funded 'working' vacation." According to documents they obtained via FOIA requests (and their own "calculations"), the trip cost taxpayers $425,000 in travel and food expenses. Their "report" has already been picked up by Drudge, and it's being flogged by the dimmer corners of the right-wing media.

To hear Judicial Watch tell it, the First Lady scammed taxpayers by tacking a few official speeches onto an itinerary stuffed with "tourist events":

The professed purpose of Michelle Obama's trip to South Africa and Botswana was to encourage young people living in the two growing democracies to become involved in national affairs; and during her scheduled stops in Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa, and in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, the First Lady used the opportunity to speak on education, health, and wellness issues.

The trip also included such tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums, plus a nonworking chance to send time with Nelson Mandela, a meeting that Mrs. Obama described as "surreal."  The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27.

[...]

This trip was as much an opportunity for the Obama family and friends to go on a safari as it was a trip intended to advance the administration's agenda in Africa.

There are a few things to point out here.

First, it's ridiculous to criticize the First Lady for the travel costs of an official trip to Africa. She's the First Lady; if she travels anywhere, it's going to be funded with public money. She can't exactly fly stand-by on Southwest.

Second, regarding the "private family safari," the White House tells Media Matters that the South Africa safari was paid for with the Obamas' private funds. What's more, in taking her daughters on safari in Africa, Mrs. Obama was following in the footsteps of her predecessor. As NPR's David Green reported in July 2005:

GREEN: Laura Bush's first stop in Africa was a safari lodge on the South Africa-Botswana border. It was to be an exotic weekend alone for her and her twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. On the other hand, the first lady explained, they were not totally alone.

Mrs. LAURA BUSH: We saw elephants and rhino and hippopotamus and lion and zebra and...

GREEN: After her weekend as a wildlife tourist, the first lady set off on a journey to some of Africa's most troubled spots.

(A quick peek at Judicial Watch's press release archive doesn't turn up any outraged denunciations of Laura Bush's safari-going ways.)

Third, to say that the trip "was as much an opportunity for the Obama family and friends to go on a safari as it was a trip intended to advance the administration's agenda in Africa" is absurd. The six-day trip was dominated by official events and meetings with world leaders. Mrs. Obama met with the South African president's wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma; spoke to the Young African Women Leaders Forum; participated in community service events in Johannesburg; visited U.S. embassies and consulates; spoke at the University of Cape Town and met with students from poor communities; held a meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu; met with Botswanan president Ian Khama; and gave interviews to several news outlets, including NBC, ABC, BET, and CNN.

Lastly, Judicial Watch doesn't really explain how a meeting with Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and icon of the global struggle for racial equality, constitutes "tourism." Also, the other events Judicial Watch considers "tourism" -- visits to museums and historical landmarks -- are standard fare for visiting dignitaries. Laura Bush, during the same Africa trip noted above, toured museums and memorials dedicated to victims of apartheid and genocide.

So there's not a whole lot to undergird Judicial Watch's outrage, though that was never the point. Hatchet-jobs like these are less about good government than they are taking pot-shots at the administration. The First Lady's Africa trip was nothing out of the ordinary, but when you cherry-pick a few numbers and gin up the requisite amount of faux-righteous anger, you can turn almost anything into a damaging meme.

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    • Author by nerzog (October 04, 2011 6:05 pm ET)
      20  
      Well, obviously Michelle's real mission is to find and destroy her husband's Kenyan Birth Certificate.
      Report Abuse
      • Author by IRONY 101 (October 04, 2011 6:21 pm ET)
        10  
        And to secretly deliver a message to agents of The Muslim Brotherhood that the time is right for the Caliphate in America to proceed...
        Report Abuse
    • Author by pete592 (October 04, 2011 6:06 pm ET)
      14  
      IOKIYAR...

      Laura Bush was also a frequent flier who often brought her daughters along for the ride.

      Her first foreign foray was a ten-day trip to Paris, Budapest and Prague in 2002 with daughter Jenna, who was then 20.

      The White House made sure Laura Bush had at least one "official" event in each city, but she and Jenna spent the bulk of their time at each locale shopping and taking in the sights.
      Report Abuse
    • Author by Nihilist (October 04, 2011 6:08 pm ET)
      6  
      yeah but flotus went to one of 'those' countrys. and todays meme, flotus is chewbacca.... but hey, the baggers arent racsist eh????
      Report Abuse
    • Author by steeve (October 04, 2011 6:23 pm ET)
      2 12
      The Obamas are being attacked for so vanishingly few real actions that it lends support to the idea that they aren't leading.
      Report Abuse
      • Author by nerzog (October 04, 2011 6:46 pm ET)
        9  
        Maybe it's because the Troglodytes know that none of their candidates could do any better, so they avoid the real issues and attack Obama over petty little sh*t like this.
        Report Abuse
      • Author by Rollo (October 04, 2011 6:46 pm ET)
        8  
        steeve, if you don't mind, could you expand on that thought? When I say 'expand', I mean can you go into detail with your post.

        Report Abuse
        • Author by steeve (October 04, 2011 7:20 pm ET)
          5 6
          It's like a depth chart in football. The right wing will get its eleven attacks per day on the field one way or another. But we're seeing third-stringers. The new black panther thing? Taking ordinary trips? A carefully-weighted comment that not all rich people are perfect? Mentioning community values?

          I'd much rather have Obama attacked for raising taxes on the rich worse than Clinton, prosecuting banks, rubbing congress's unpopular policies in the voters' faces, issuing a bunch of executive orders, strong-arming democratic congresspeople to unite behind real policy, and on and on.
          Report Abuse
          • Author by Rollo (October 04, 2011 9:54 pm ET)
            2  
            Thanks.
            Report Abuse
          • Author by curiousindependent (October 05, 2011 9:03 am ET)
               
            I'd much rather have Obama attacked for raising taxes on the rich worse than Clinton, prosecuting banks, rubbing congress's unpopular policies in the voters' faces, issuing a bunch of executive orders, strong-arming democratic congresspeople to unite behind real policy, and on and on.
            One of the rare times I have to agree with you. I wish that Obama was the "extreme leftist" that the right wing propaganda machine paints him to be, instead of the center-right capitulator he actually is. At least that way, he would actually DO some of those things that need to be done. Funny, in '82, with Reagan as president, Obama would have made a good Republican. Well. Except for the skin pigment thing.
            Report Abuse
    • Author by Rollo (October 04, 2011 6:39 pm ET)
      8  
      The only people outraged about this, are people who never liked the Obama's anyway. Rational/sane people could give less than a cr@p about the FLOTUS going on any trip...EVER. When are the moderate republicans going to step up and take control of their party?
      Report Abuse
      • Author by political_left-religious_right (October 04, 2011 8:10 pm ET)
        6  
        When are the moderate republicans going to step up and take control of their party?

        As soon as the moderate republicans step up and take control of their wing of the media.
        Report Abuse
      • Author by curiousindependent (October 05, 2011 9:05 am ET)
        1  
        Wait, what? There are moderate Republicans? I thought that was an extinct species.
        Report Abuse
    • Author by hoopvillain (October 04, 2011 6:40 pm ET)
      7 1
      This is par for the course with the repubtard media. There is a basement office someplace where little repubtards scour the internet for things for which attack the Obamas. It doesnt matter if they are hypocritical or not. It doesnt matter if they lie or not. They just attack. It is primarily racially motivated.
      Report Abuse
    • Author by hoopvillain (October 04, 2011 6:43 pm ET)
      5  
      What do you want to bet this ends up all over faux nooze as well.
      Report Abuse
    • Author by vonlynn (October 04, 2011 7:59 pm ET)
         
      the trip Laura made did not include an entourage of extended family as is with Michelle. Owebamas family has benefitted much from taxpayers money as have his friends since his inauguration.
      This is plain and simple abuse of his position as President.
      Report Abuse
    • Author by WilliamP (October 04, 2011 11:44 pm ET)
      4  
      Gee, I guess these folks never heard of the $1,000,000,000+ trip to Iraq and Afghanistan G.W. Bush took when he was in office. I never hear them complain about that.
      Report Abuse
      • Author by galmud (October 05, 2011 4:54 am ET)
        1  
        The Iraq war is one of the biggest if not the biggest foreign policy failure in American history. The lies about WMDs and connections to Al Qaeda + a multitude of other transgressions in connection to the war, most of them enough for impeachment

        The right blindly condoned often praised Bush for all of it while attacking any critics as unamerican. And now here they are throwing a fit over every single little step the President and the First Lady takes
        Report Abuse
        • Author by curiousindependent (October 05, 2011 9:07 am ET)
          1  
          Yep. Imagine if Hank Williams Jr. and Ted "pantscr@pper" Nugent were treated like Natalie Maines. From what I have seen, their transgressions have been FAR WORSE than Maines' "I am ashamed to be from Texas" remark.
          Report Abuse
    • Author by Egbert Sousť (October 05, 2011 9:32 am ET)
         
      "Mrs. Obama met with the South African president's wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma ..."

      Ya see, here's the problem which Judicial Watch found. Nompumelelo rhymes with Chicago. Need I say more?

      Report Abuse
    • Author by epkklk851 (October 05, 2011 10:27 am ET)
         
      They're implying, without stating it outright, that the First Lady took her mother and neice on the public nickel. I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that when the Government sends official delegations somewhere, the members can sponsor friends or family to be included, but they have to pay commercial airfare rates for them, the public doesn't pay for them. A family member of mine got to travel to Europe under the Reagan Administration because of this policy. Even at commercial rates, it's still a great deal, and think of what Mrs. Obama got to show her neices. Her hairdresser wasn't on vacation, it was work for a member of her staff; staffers are paid for under the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR).
      Report Abuse

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