Right-wing media launch bogus attacks on Obama's India trip

Right-wing media have been hyping reports from an Indian news agency that President Obama's upcoming trip to India will cost $200 million a day and will require 34 warships to be stationed off the Indian coast. In fact, the White House, the Secret Service and the Pentagon have called the claims false, and numerous U.S. media sources question the numbers.

Conservative media hype numbers from anonymous source in Indian report

Press Trust of India reports Obama's trip will cost "$200 million per day" and use “34 warships” for protection. In a November 2 article headlined, "US to spend $200 mn a day on Obama's Mumbai visit," the Press Trust of India reported that “The US would be spending a whopping $200 million (Rs. 900 crore approx) per day on President Barack Obama's visit to the city,” citing an anonymous “top official of the Maharashtra Government privy to the arrangements” for the visit. On November 4, The Press Trust of India published a story headlined, "34 warships sent from US for Obama visit" and reported that Obama will be “protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast” during his two-day stay there. The article does not cite any specific individuals as sources for this claim.

Drudge hypes the claims. On November 2, the Drudge Report linked to the Press Trust of India story citing the $200 million figure and wrote, “REPORT: US to spend $200 million per day on Obama's Mumbai visit...”

On November 4, Drudge featured a link to the Press Trust story about “34 warships,” citing the claim in large font.

Rush: Obama is spending $200 million a day, “thinks this nation owes him.” On the November 2 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh, responding to a caller, cited the figure and claimed of the President, “You have a guy and a family who thinks this nation owes him.” From the show:

But the idea that you're going to take 3000 people and you're booking over 500 rooms in a hotel, and you're taking 40 airplanes? What that tells me is, that you have a guy and a family who thinks this nation owes him. And while they're in a position to, they are going to live off of this country as much as they can -- they are gonna get theirs. That's what this tells me. This is -- no President has ever, anywhere close to -- 40 airplanes, 3000 people, 500 rooms in one hotel. And that's just one hotel. For a 10 day trip -- $200 million a day! That's never been done before! This is somebody that says, “It's my turn.”

Powers on Malkin: “Obama to See India on $200 Million a Day.” Writing on Michelle Malkin's blog on November 2, conservative blogger Doug Powers linked to the Press Trust story and cited the $200 million figure, writing, “Seemingly every election day estimate predicting increasingly bad news for Democrats is met by an exponential rise in the cost to taxpayers for President Obama's 'I'm outta here' world tour. Coincidence?”

Daily Caller links to the Press Trust story. On Nov. 2, the Daily Caller featured an excerpt from the Press Trust story citing the $200 million figure and linked to the story.

WorldNetDaily cites $200 million figure. On November 3, WorldNetDaily published a story citing the $200 million figure, writing, “Obama's trip to Mumbai reportedly will cost American taxpayers 'a whopping $200 million per day' according the Press Trust of India.”

Glenn Beck promotes the figure on radio, TV, claiming the 10-day Asia tour will cost "$2 billion." On his November 3 radio show and television program, Beck pushed the $200 million number, saying it would cost $2 billion for the President's “10-day trip” in India and across Asia. On his radio show, he said, “This New Delhi trip really, really, bothers me. Not in the way that it's just costing $2 billion for 10 days so he can go see the Festival of Lights?” referring to Diwali, one of the most important festivals in Hinduism. On the November 3 edition of his program, Beck repeated the claim and said the trip was “being reported as possibly the largest-scale presidential trip of all time” and called it a “lavish trip,” suggesting it might cost up to "$2 billion" to make sure the President was “safe.”

FBN's Bolling hypes the "$200 million" price tag. Host Eric Bolling also quoted the "$200 million per day" figure on the November 3 edition of his Fox Business show, Follow the Money, saying Obama's trip will cost "$200 million dollars...per day" and that “President Obama still doesn't hesitate to take billions from taxpayers.” A chyron reading “Pres. Obama's India trip will cost taxpayers $200M per day” was shown during the segment.

White House, Secret Service, Pentagon call claims absurd

WH: “These numbers have no basis in reality” and are “wildly inflated.” On November 3, White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told Media Matters: “The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality. Due to security concerns, we are unable to outline details associated with security procedures and costs, but it's safe to say these numbers are wildly inflated.”

Secret Service: Estimates are “significantly exaggerated.” On November 4, Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan told Media Matters that figures in recent reports of President Obama's trip to India were “significantly exaggerated.”

Pentagon: 34 warships claim is “absolutely absurd” and “comical.” On November 4, ABC News reported that Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said at that day's Pentagon briefing:

I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy -- some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier -- in support of the president's trip to Asia. That's just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.

Mainstream media, conservative blogger debunk the claims

Factcheck.org: Claim is “highly doubtful” and would make trip more expensive than war in Afghanistan. On November 3, FactCheck.org published an item calling the $200 million per day claim “highly doubtful,” saying that “there's no evidence to support such a huge figure.” The report noted that the claim originated from “one Indian news agency quoting an anonymous source in Mumbai” and that because the official isn't in the U.S. government, “any information about costs would necessarily have come second-hand at best, an added reason for caution.” Factcheck.org also noted that the figure would make the trip more expensive than the current U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, which costs roughly $190 million per day, according to the Congressional Research Service.

CNN's Cooper: Obama Asia trip cost “myth” being pushed by “powerful pundits.” Host Anderson Cooper referred to the claims as “a made up story about the President of the United States” during a segment about the claim on the November 4 edition of his CNN show, Anderson Cooper 360. After replaying a string of conservative media figures promoting the claim, Cooper played clips of White House Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissing the numbers and Pentagon Press Secretary Morrell giving his statement.

Former Bush Chief of Staff: $200 million cost “doesn't...pass the smell test” and the White House “is appropriate” in not disclosing the costs. Also on the November 4 Anderson Cooper 360, Cooper asked Bush's former chief of staff Andy Card, “You have been a former chief of staff. You have been on these trips. Even the remote possibility of it costing $200 million a day, I mean, does that even pass the smell test to you?” Card replied:

It doesn't to me, but I think the White House is appropriate in saying they don't talk about what it costs for the president to travel.

Look it, we want our president to be safe wherever he goes. I can't imagine it would cost $200 million a day. If it costs anywhere close to that number, the president should be asking tough questions of the Defense Department and the Secret Service and the State Department.

He then added that he had “not heard from any of the so-called pundits or personalities in the media” who should have been trying to, in Cooper's words, “confirm any of these or check any of these numbers.”

GMA: Numbers are from a “questionably-sourced” report, called “patently false” by experts. ABC's White House correspondent Jake Tapper reviewed the $200 million and 34 warships claims during a segment on the November 5 edition of ABC's Good Morning America. Tapper said experts call the claims “patently false” and also noted that the number exceeds the cost of the war in Afghanistan.

WSJ: Calls the figures “outlandish hyperventilation,” says the report is “demonstrably incorrect.” On November 4, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the figures, saying Obama was “getting pilloried by the right” on the cost of the trip “without a pause for fact-checking.” From the article:

Snopes.com, a website devoted to myth busting, noted that even if the Indian press has correctly reported the size of the president's entourage -- 3,000 -- the cost would work out to $66,000 per person per day, “a figure that stretches credulity to the breaking point.” Factcheck.org noted that the entire war in Afghanistan costs $190 million a day.

But the report is demonstrably incorrect. It says the White House had blocked off the entire Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai -- it hasn't -- and that the press traveling with Mr. Obama will be staying there. We won't. Besides, the press pays its own way at considerable cost to the media outlets, not the U.S. taxpayer.

Now a new rumor has emerged courtesy of India's NDTV. Mr. Obama, the outlet says, “will be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast.” The White House called that ridiculous. But on the conservative Drudge Report website, it's on the home page -- in huge type.

Conservative blogger Allahpundit: “No, Obama's not taking 34 Navy ships to India with him.” Blogger Allahpundit, writing on the conservative blog Hot Air, posted an entry titled, “No, Obama's not taking 34 Navy ships to India with him” on November 4. Allahpundit links to the ABC story on the Pentagon's dismissal of the 34 warships claim, then links to the Wall Street Journal piece and cites an excerpt.