U.S. first lady Michelle Obama meets children as she visits the Emthonjeni Community Center in Zandspruit Township, Johannesburg, June 21, 2011.(Charles Dharapak/Pool)
*Press watchdog group Media Matters is firing back at conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch over its recent report of First Lady Michelle Obama’s June trip to South Africa and Botswana, calling it “a nice taxpayer-funded ‘working’ vacation.”
According to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, Judicial Watch claims the trip cost taxpayers $425,000 in travel and food expenses. Their report has been picked up by Drudge, and “it’s being flogged by the dimmer corners of the right-wing media,” Media Matters stated.
Judicial Watch’s release yesterday said the first lady’s June goodwill mission to Africa cost $424,142 just for her Air Force C32A. Judicial Watch said it used Pentagon calculations to come up with the price to taxpayers, multiplying the hourly cost of $12,188 by the number of flight hours, 34.8.
The White House later said that the costs used were exaggerated and included elements typically not included in calculating flight costs.
“The number stated is misconstrued and out of context. The hourly rate is not the marginal cost of operating the plane—it is an accounting figure that prices in a number of fixed costs from maintaining the Air Force fleet for this kind of plane over a year. For example, it includes estimated replacement parts, depreciation, repairs, and costs that would have been incurred regardless of this flight,” said an official.
The administration also noted that all first ladies travel on military aircraft. “For security reasons Mrs. Obama must fly on military aircraft,” said one official.
Media Matters assailed Judicial Watch for its cost calculations of the June 21-27 trip that included the two first daughters, Mrs. Obama’s mother, hairdresser, and makeup artist. Media Matters accused Judicial Watch of coming up with “their own ‘calculations’” of the trip.
[Click here to read the full Media Matters article “Judicial Watch Fakes Outrage At First Lady's Africa Trip.”]
First lady Michelle Obama, wearing a hat and sunglasses, center, stands in line at a Target Department store in Alexandria, Va., Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, after doing some shopping. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Meanwhile, the Judicial Watch report comes as conservative outlets are expressing skepticism over Mrs. Obama’s recent outing to a Target in Alexandria, VA, suggesting the trip was a calculated attempt to deflect criticism of the first lady’s more expensive tastes in vacations and wardrobe.
“First Lady Michelle Obama shopping at Target with an AP photographer in tow . . . . planned? I think so,” tweeted Fox News and syndicated radio host Sean Hannity.
“One wonders if First Lady Michelle Obama truly thought she could pass for an ‘everywoman’ as she shopped” at Target, sniffed the Blaze, a Web site launched last year by radio host Glenn Beck.
Rush Limbaugh called it “What a phony-baloney plastic banana good-time rock-and-roller optic photo op.”
As previously reported, neither the White House nor the Associated Press will say how AP photographer Charles Dharapak came to be the only news photographer present at the Alexandria Target to capture Obama’s shopping excursion.
“All I can say is that it was the result of good source work on his part,” AP spokesman Paul Colford said, declining to elaborate on the sources or the work involved.
A spokeswoman for Michelle Obama, Kristina Schake, also declined to discuss how the photographs came about. In a statement, she said, “It is not uncommon for the First Lady to slip out to run an errand, eat at a local restaurant or otherwise enjoy the city outside the White House gates.”