First lady Michelle Obama's Spring Break trip to China with her daughters and mom has received some glowing news reports, but not because her press corps has had an easy time covering the event-filled trip.
Reporters say that they have been blocked from events, screamed at by officials, held back with red tape and told not to move from prepositioned lookouts, possibly to avoid taking embarrassing photos.
On Monday, the New York Times filed a pool report about the first lady’s tour of Xi’an, a city dating to the 14th century. “Event below marred for press by obnoxious Chinese advance man screaming and shoving us behind his ever moving red tape line,” said the report.
Another from Friday said that officials wouldn’t dish what the first lady and Chinese President Xi Jinping talked about or even ate during their dinner.
On Sunday, reporters were rushed out of the first lady’s meeting with educators, students and parents for one of her big events to discuss education inside the U.S. embassy.
“Although pool photographers were allowed to take pictures of the roundtable, the names and bios of the participants have so far been withheld by the White House, and the pool was only allowed to hear roughly four minutes of opening comments by [U.S. Ambassador Max] Baucus and Obama,” said the pool report from the McClatchy Newspapers reporter. “News officers said they were not releasing names so participants could talk candidly with Obama about education issues.”
Later, the same reporter had to quote “news officials” on what the first family had for lunch before walking on the Great Wall: noodles, dumplings and salads.
And for that photo opportunity on the Great Wall, reporters and photographers were prepositioned to catch the first family walking toward them. “Photographers and reporters covering the visit were sent ahead to Tower 15, and told they could not move from the top of the tower until told to do so. After a while, we could see Ms. Obama, Malia and Sasha walking down the steps, through Tower 14 and down toward Tower 15,” wrote McClatchy’s Beijing bureau chief.
“Had photographers been able to shoot from Tower 14 as the family walked north, the photographs would have captured them walking the wall with a massive rock inscription on the hillside above them to the north, which read in Chinese characters, ‘Loyal to Chairman Mao,’ ” he added.
The report noted that it wasn’t the only potential embarrassment officials avoided. Sales of a popular t-shirt sold at stalls near the wall that show President Obama in a Mao military-style hat were temporarily banned.
“That tip turned out to be true. Several merchants denied carrying such items, but one merchant quietly took this correspondent to the back of her tent and showed off a whole box of the popular, normally seen t-shirts. As we were negotiating prices — she wanted 360 yuan, or roughly $60, an outrageous starting price — other merchants came by, and in Chinese, told her to be careful. The merchant became visibly rattled and put the t-shirts away,” wrote pool reporter Stuart Leavenworth.
You can see images of the shirt here.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.