The Drudge Report highlighted a New York Post article reporting the taxpayer cost of the Obamas' trip to New York City. But neither noted that such use of taxpayer funds for private travel by the first family is typical.
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On June 1, Internet gossip Matt Drudge linked to a May 31 New York Post article using the headline, "THE $24,000+ DATE...," suggesting that the cost to taxpayers due to the Obamas' May 30 personal visit to New York City is somehow unusual. In the article, the Post reported that "[t]axpayers footed the bill for the big night on the town, which included a total of at least $24,000 for the three aircraft used to ferry the Obamas, aides and reporters to New York and back," adding that "[t]he White House declined to say how much the trip was costing taxpayers." But neither Drudge nor the Post noted that such use of taxpayer funds for private travel by the first family is typical; former President George W. Bush, for example, reportedly used Air Force One for trips to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, which he reportedly visited 77 times over the course of his eight years in office.
As Kenneth T. Walsh noted in a June 1 U.S. News & World Report article about Republican criticism of the Obamas' trip, "For many years, presidents have used government transportation, and spent taxpayers' money, for personal trips." Walsh continued:
George W. Bush, for example, traveled frequently to his Texas ranch for vacations and R&R. Bill Clinton went to Martha's Vineyard for vacations in the summer. George H.W. Bush often traveled to his retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, for breaks from Washington.
The opposition party sometimes jumps on these trips and argues that the president is being extravagant or sending the wrong signal of self-indulgence to the country. That's what's happening to Obama now.
Similarly, during a discussion of Republican criticism of the Obamas' trip on the June 1 edition of MSNBC Live, Joe Conason, national correspondent for The New York Observer, said of the trip: "[T]his is what the presidency is." He continued: "When the president travels -- as George Bush did, as Bill Clinton did, as presidents have, you know, throughout history -- the government pays to keep them safe, to keep their communication secure. This is just -- this is part of the job."
As Media Matters for America documented, several media outlets and figures advanced false comparisons of the total costs of President Obama's inauguration and Bush's 2005 inauguration, misrepresenting Obama's as more expensive. Those outlets used figures that excluded security, transportation, and other incidental costs to federal, state, and local governments incurred in conjunction with the events in 2005, while including them in the projections for the 2009 event.
Numerous media reports throughout Bush's presidency indicate that he used Air Force One for his vacation trips to his Crawford ranch. The Los Angeles Times' James Gerstenzang reported in an April 28, 2001, article, "For Bush, All Roads Lead to Crawford," that Bush himself said he was about to take Air Force One to his ranch. Gerstenzang reported that Bush said:
"I like to get outside of Washington. I like to go to where the space is open, where I can walk around with Spot and Barney, the two family dogs. My wife loves our country, the country house we've got, and so do I, and so I beg your forgiveness for not eating dinner here tonight. ... I'm fixing to get on Air Force One and take it to Crawford, Texas."
In a December 27, 2001, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel article (accessed via Nexis), national correspondent Jeff Zeleny reported "[a]fter spending Christmas at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, the president and first lady boarded Air Force One to travel to their ranch near the village of Crawford."
An August 4, 2006, report from Bergen County, New Jersey's, The Record, "Bush begins his vacation" (accessed via Nexis), similarly reported that Bush took Air Force One to Texas for his "10-day summer vacation at his Crawford ranch."
And on December 26, 2007, The Associated Press reported that Bush took "Air Force One to fly from his Maryland mountaintop retreat to his Texas ranch here to see in the new year." The AP included a photo with the following caption:
Photo by AP
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave, as they walk with Mrs. Bush's mother Jenna Welch, past Brig. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, obscured, on their way to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Wednesday, enroute to Crawford, Texas.
6 August 2002: President Bush tries to persuade his dog Barney to walk up the steps to Air Force One on the tarmac at Andrews air force base, en route to the president's ranch in Crawford
Photograph: Paul J. Richards/AFP
An Associated Press photograph and caption:
AP Photo 21 months ago
President Bush, second from left, walks with outgoing White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove toward Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Monday, Aug. 13, 2007. Accompanying them is first lady Laura Bush, left, and Air Force Col. Margaret Woodward. The President was leaving for Crawford, Texas.
From the Drudge Report, archived at 09:41:12 a.m. ET on June 1:
From the New York Post's May 31 article, "Obama Keeps His Big Apple Pledge" by Charles Hurt and Stefanie Cohen:
Taxpayers footed the bill for the big night on the town, which included a total of at least $24,000 for the three aircraft used to ferry the Obamas, aides and reporters to New York and back. Dinner costs and orchestra seat tickets -- at $96.50 apiece -- were paid by the Obamas.
Obama's jet, a Gulfstream 500, served as a more modest Air Force One for the day in place of the customary presidential Boeing 747.
The White House declined to say how much the trip was costing taxpayers.
From the 10 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on June 1:
NORAH O'DONNELL (host): Yeah, exactly. You know, the president and Mrs. Obama took some time this weekend to enjoy dinner and a show in New York City. The first couple stopped traffic and turned heads in the Big Apple. And even though they made the trip on a smaller version of Air Force One, Republicans are pouncing -- criticizing, slamming the Obamas for putting on a show and winging it into the city for an evening out while another iconic American company prepares for bankruptcy. Those are the words at the RNC.
With me now live, Joe Conason, national correspondent for The New York Observer. All right, Joe -- cheap shot on the part of the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele?
CONASON: Well, you know, Norah, you have to wonder whether any of these people got exercised, for example, when President Bush spent something like 40 percent of his time at Camp David, Kennebunkport, and his ranch in Crawford. I don't know how much all of that travel cost the taxpayers, but nobody on the Democratic side said, "Oh, the president shouldn't be doing this" -- even though he was doing this before 9-11, during the war in Iraq.
I mean, this is -- I don't think anybody is really angry about this. I think this is, as you suggested, a cheap shot. And I -- you have to wonder whether the president would rather break a promise to his wife or suffer a cheap shot from the RNC. And I think that's a pretty easy choice, right?
O'DONNELL: Yeah, exactly. I think this man knows when he makes a promise to Michelle Obama, he should not break that promise. It's a good point.
CONASON: Everybody knows what the right thing to do is --
O'DONNELL: Yeah, everybody knows that.
CONASON: -- in those circumstances.
O'DONNELL: Joe, let me put up on the screen some of the instances of what it cost. The travel expense estimate -- $24,000. There were three planes: one for the Obamas, two for staff and reporters -- and, of course, reporters do have to reimburse the government for that expense -- two helicopters, the motorcade into New York City, and dinner costs and orchestra seat tickets were $96 apiece. But Obamas paid for their own dinner and for --
CONASON: Right. Right.
O'DONNELL: -- those tickets. What would be the counter-argument here? Do the Republicans want the Obamas just to stay at home inside the White House --
CONASON: You know --
O'DONNELL: -- and not go out and socialize and, like --
CONASON: As somebody who lives in New York City, I mean, we here would see this as an economic development --
CONASON: -- program by the president. Twenty-four thousand in the scope of the expenses of the presidency isn't really very much. I'm glad he paid for the dinner and the tickets himself, though, because it wouldn't be much of a date if he had, you know, had the taxpayers pay to take out his wife.
So, this is what the presidency is. When the president travels -- as George Bush did, as Bill Clinton did, as presidents have, you know, throughout history -- the government pays to keep them safe, to keep their communication secure. This is just -- this is part of the job.
O'DONNELL: All right, Joe Conason. Great to see you, Joe. Thanks so much for joining us.