Could there be two luckier tweens in all of America than Malia and Sasha Obama?
The Jonas Brothers and Beyoncé sing for them. They get to meet the pope, the queen and Harry Potter. They get personal tours of the Eiffel Tower, the Kremlin, the Sistine Chapel, the Tower of London. They go to the best ice-cream parlor in Rome and make their own gelato. They have visited Yellowstone's Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon, gone whitewater rafting and picked peaches in Colorado. This week, they're relaxing at Martha's Vineyard, where the rich and famous and presidential while away their summers.
They've been having a grand time since arriving in the White House, mostly out of the public eye. So far.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are trying to make their daughters' experience in the White House as educational and broadening as possible, taking them along on trips this summer with expressly didactic intentions.
"I want to teach them that Italy isn't just pizza," Michelle remarked in Rome in July during an official visit in which she and the girls toured the Eternal City's ancient sites, such as the Pantheon, the Colisseum and the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica.
At the same time, the Obamas expect or even demand that the news media spotlight be turned away from the girls skipping alongside them. When the family arrived on Martha's Vineyard on Sunday, the Obamas beseeched the accompanying press corps to stay away from the girls. Given their undeniable appeal and the keen public appetite for news about them, persuading the media to pay little or no attention isn't a slam dunk.
"If the Obamas pull it off, they'll be among the first (of presidential families) to achieve it," says Bonnie Angelo, author of First Families: The Impact of the White House on Their Lives.
Big changes since Carter's kids
Indeed, says Anita McBride, who was former first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff, striking the right balance is tricky, for both the first family and the media. There's really no precedent for the Obamas, she says, because the media landscape has so dramatically changed since the last time there were children in the White House, during the Carter administration in the late 1970s and the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s.
By the 1990s, in the age of 24/7 cable news but before the rise of the Internet, the Clintons had become ferociously protective in shielding daughter Chelsea, who was 13 when she entered the White House and soon learned to protect herself with a talk-to-the-hand attitude toward the media that continues to this day.
"There's a great deal of interest in these two beautiful young girls (Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8) and how they spend their time, and the struggle to protect their privacy while giving the public the information they should have is an issue that plagues every first family," McBride says.
So far, the Malia/Sasha news grayout is mostly holding. For example: In June, the girls went to Hogwarts, touring the London set of the final Harry Potter movie after being invited by Harry himself, actor Daniel Radcliffe. They even celebrated Sasha's 8th birthday with the cast and crew. It was a highlight of a quick sightseeing visit to London by Michelle Obama, the girls and their grandmother, Marian Robinson, but there were no photo ops and it wasn't splashed all over front pages or news broadcasts.
Even president talks about them