DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO: First lady Michelle Obama talked about freedom of speech even as her trip to Beijing denied access to the press.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
First lady Michelle Obama told students that freedom of speech should be a universal right during her extravagant, no-press-allowed tour of China — a hypocritical move that will surely draw the ire of critics, according to an expert.
“That is troublesome. That goes beyond hypocritical, and I think the American media and the international media has every right to call her and the Obama administration on that — that they permitted that to happen,” said Tom Whalen, a political history professor at Boston University. “It makes you shake your head, albeit sadly.”
The first lady stopped at Peking University in Beijing yesterday during a weeklong trip that was billed as cultural rather than political. She told students, accustomed to China’s tight Internet restrictions, that the free flow of information is crucial “because that’s how we discover truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in out communities and our country and our world.”
Meanwhile, the first lady’s camp has kept the press away from her vacation, a potential public relations misstep.
“You see that this administration is tone deaf when it comes to politics. They do not understand the political sentiment,” Whalen said. “It seems like it’s one disaster after another when it comes to PR. You don’t want to do this right now.”
Others believe critics will slam the first lady for overstepping her authority.
“The conservative angle on this is that this is another example of someone overreaching her bounds at a time when it’s more important than ever to have support from China,” said Rob Brown, a public relations professor at Salem State. “There are some who will say lecturing China on this is risky. … She has made herself the center of this story.”
Brown indicated that the first lady will likely have to fend off critics who believe she should be nothing more than “window dressing” on a non-political vacation. However, he thinks the backlash will run along party lines.
“There will be some pushback from the far right, and there will be some real wind in her sails from the left,” he said. “She came into this with support. I would find it hard to believe that this wasn’t planned and she blurted this out. It’s clear that this was the idea going into this, and she must have the implicit endorsement of the president.”