Conservative media's attacks on Spain vacation based on falsehoods

Conservative media are pushing the falsehoods that taxpayers picked up the tab for Michelle Obama's private vacation expenses in Spain and that 40 friends accompanied her and her daughter Sasha on the trip. In fact, the Obamas were accompanied by two of the first lady's friends and three of their daughters, and all of them, including the Obamas, reportedly paid for their own personal and travel expenses.

Limbaugh: Obama is “taking 40 of her best friends and leasing 60 rooms in a five-star hotel -- paid for by you.” On the August 6 broadcast of his show, Limbaugh asserted: “Michelle has a beach closed down in Spain after taking 40 of her best friends and leasing 60 rooms in a five-star hotel -- paid for by you, because they deserve it -- but you have to pay. You have to pay up.” He went on to say that “the Obamas have not done a days-worth of work in their lives to generate this kind of lifestyle for themselves. They are living off of you, and every one of us.”

American Thinker: Michelle Obama is taking “maximum advantage of the perks of an unlimited expense account.” On July 27, Ralph Alter wrote on the American Thinker blog:

Pampered on the our tax dollars with a staff whose salaries exceed $1.6 million annually, Michelle Obama has not been unwilling to take maximum advantage of the perks of an unlimited expense account as first lady.

The latest report on Obama extravagance indicates that Michelle Obama will take a summer break with one of her daughters “in the company of old friends” on the Costa del Sol in Spain:

Michelle Obama has reserved 30 rooms for herself and her daughter, their friends and bodyguards at a five-star hotel in Benahavis near Marbella, hotel sources said.

How does anyone need 30 rooms for a mother-daughter trip?

NY Daily News' Tantaros hypes cost to taxpayers of “material girl” Michelle Obama's vacation with “40 of her 'closest friends.' ” In an August 5 New York Daily News column, Andrea Tantaros wrote that "[w]hile many of us are struggling, the First Lady is spending the next few days in a five-star hotel on the chic Costa del Sol in southern Spain with 40 of her 'closest friends.' " After pricing the first lady's hotel room at "[u]p to a staggering $2,500" per night and pointing out that she'd be traveling on Air Force Two, Tantaros wrote:

To be clear, what the Obamas do with their money is one thing; what they do with ours is another. Transporting and housing the estimated 70 Secret Service agents who will flank the material girl will cost the taxpayers a pretty penny.

Conservative media criticize Michelle Obama for “liv[ing] the high life while America suffers.” Numerous other conservative media outlets also attacked the first lady's trip to Spain. For instance, a Washington Times editorial claimed that the “Obamas live the high life while America suffers” and Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds posting the following image to accompany his attack:

The Obamas reportedly paid own vacation expenses except security

NY Times: The first lady will pay “for her own room, food and transportation.” The New York Times reported that Michelle Obama and her friends paid their own vacation costs. Additionally, the Tribune reported that Michelle Obama's family friends “arrived in Spain on their own” and that because Michelle Obama and her daughter flew on an Air Force jet, "[t]he Obama family will reimburse the government an amount equal to two first-class tickets." The government will pick up the tab for the Obamas' security, but it is the Secret Service -- not Michelle Obama -- that decides the amount of security needed. From the August 6 New York Times article:

Privately, officials note that the first lady is paying for her own room, food and transportation, and the friends she brought will pay for theirs as well. The government pays for security, and the Secret Service, not the first lady, determines what is needed.

NY Times: Michelle Obama “is not traveling with 40 friends.” From the same New York Times article:

Officials said some reports of the trip had been exaggerated. Mrs. Obama is not traveling with 40 friends, one official said, but with two friends and four of their daughters, as well as a couple of aides and a couple of advance staff members. The staff is with her because she will pay a courtesy call on King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía on the island of Majorca on Sunday before flying home to Washington.

Perino: Michelle Obama “pays her own way” and “I don't think any of us should grudge her security.” On the August 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Dana Perino pushed back against co-host Brian Kilmeade's comment that Michelle Obama's Spain vacation was “way over the line,” saying:

PERINO: Well, a couple of things. I think a lot of people were frustrated by reports that said that the American taxpayer were paying for 40 rooms at this exclusive resort. That's not true. I mean, she pays for her own way, her friends pay their own way, and we pay for the security. But I don't think any of us should begrudge her security, and I just think that it was a little bit off-limits.

I looked at Maureen Dowd's column yesterday and I thought it must be hard to be that angry all the time about everything. And I think the first lady in many ways should just be a little bit off-limits, especially if she's paying her own way.

Ruth Marcus: If Spain trip were cancelled, “not one more American would have a job, not one-hundredth of a decimal point would be added to the gross domestic product.” In an August 6 post to The Washington Post's Post Partisan blog, columnist Ruth Marcus wrote:

But I also don't begrudge Michelle Obama the trip, and I'd just as soon not have my First Family vacations determined by focus groups. I'm a big fan of mother-daughter -- or father-daughter, for that matter -- trips. I'm a big fan of foreign travel. School's out. It can't be that the only acceptable activity in stressful economic times is a First Family stay-cation. Stick around the White House and straighten the closets, maybe repaint a bedroom?

If Michelle and Sasha had hung out at home, not one more American would have a job, not one-hundredth of a decimal point would be added to the gross domestic product. Yes, her travel required a government plane and Secret Service resources, but that would be true wherever she went. It was true when George W. Bush made 77 visits to his ranch in Crawford and spent all or part of 490 days there during his presidency, according to CBS News' Mark Knoller, official tallier of presidential downtime.

Lynn Sweet: Michelle Obama went to Spain to console “one of her closest friends ... who just lost her father.” In her August 9 Chicago Sun-Times column, Lynn Sweet wrote: “I'm told she [Michelle Obama] made the trip because she promised one of her closest friends, a longtime Chicago pal who just lost her father, she would spend time with her.” From the column:

First, some numbers. Mrs. Obama did not travel with 40 friends, a number used by some news outlets.

She vacationed with two women, one of them a longtime Chicago pal, Anita Blanchard, who is the obstetrician who delivered Sasha and Malia. Blanchard is married to Marty Nesbitt -- President Obama's buddy and the treasurer of Obama's presidential campaign fund.

There was one other woman. Total: four daughters among the three women. They paid for their hotel rooms and other personal and travel expenses.

The trip involved six White House advance staffers and two East Wing staffers, deputy Chief of Staff Melissa Winter and Mrs. Obama's personal assistant, Kristen Jarvis, according to Mrs. Obama's spokeswoman Catherine McCormick Lelyveld.

Mrs. Obama does travel with significant security -- and in a trip like this, three shifts of uniformed and plain-clothes agents and military personnel flew with her on a big Air Force 757. No matter where she goes -- domestic or international -- any first lady gets protection and she does not decide how many agents are needed.

So why did Mrs. Obama go to Spain at this time? She's not tone-deaf politically. What was behind the “mother-daughter” vacation?

A White House source told me that Blanchard's father passed away and Mrs. Obama was not able to make the funeral at the beginning of July. Blanchard had promised her daughter she would take her to Spain for her birthday. She asked Mrs. Obama and Sasha to come with. (Malia is at overnight camp.)

“She felt it was important as a dear friend to do this,” I was told.

Every recent first lady has traveled on government planes with security detail

NY Times: “Every first lady in modern times has flown on government planes with a sizable security detail.” The New York Times reported on August 6 that "[e]very first lady in modern times has flown on government planes with a sizable security detail, and it is hard to pinpoint the cost to taxpayers." The same article reported that “Laura Bush took vacations without her husband each year of George W. Bush's presidency, traveling with her Secret Service detail on a government plane to meet friends for camping in national parks.”

Conservatives simultaneously defended the wealthy against imagined “class warfare” from Obama

Hannity: Is “a ton of class warfare rhetoric” going to be “all we see” from Democrats? On the July 19 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity and guest Newt Gingrich discussed President Obama's statement on extending unemployment benefits, with Hannity criticizing Obama for “referring to the GOP as being the party of the rich.” Gingrich claimed that Obama “seems to have a really unusual desire to divide the country and a really deep need to blame somebody else for his own failures, and as a result, you get this kind of Rose Garden comment.” Hannity then suggested that “for the next 106 days we can expect a ton of class-warfare rhetoric, demagoguery as you just pointed out, and demonization, et cetera, character assassination, maybe some supportive groups playing the race card because they can't run on their record? That's what's the next 106 days are going to be like? This is going to be all we see?”

Varney: The administration is going to engage in “class warfare.” On the July 20 edition of Hannity, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said that because the president “cannot point to [his] record and say it was a success,” he's going to “change the subject and engage in class warfare.”

Beck: “Class warfare, anyone?” On the July 22 edition of his Fox News television show, Glenn Beck launched an attack on the Obama White House, claiming that it is “following huge parts” of a plan “laid out over 30 years ago” by the Weather Underground. Beck suggested that the Obama administration is attempting a “fundamental transformation of our society,” the first aspect of which is “a united front against imperialism for a new democracy built on a joint dictatorship of the working class and the poor.” Beck then asked: “Class warfare, anyone?”