An Unscripted Moment With Michelle Obama and the Secret Service

Why did the Secret Service try to keep Vocativ from filming the first lady out for a morning walk on a busy road?

Vocativ was on Martha’s Vineyard over the weekend to film a piece about the African-American community on the island. While we were shooting on Beach Road, one of the busiest thoroughfares on the Vineyard, the Secret Service approached and asked us to switch off our camera for 15 minutes.

A moment later, first lady Michelle Obama power walked by our crew. She was out for some exercise with a small group—and a serious security detail. It was 9:30 in the morning.

Our producer and cameraman were surrounded by Secret Service agents and very strongly advised to stop filming. At one point, Mrs. Obama looked in their direction and said, “Don’t do that.” It’s unclear if she was telling the agents to leave us alone, or scolding us for filming on public property.

We wondered what the big deal was. The first lady is a fierce advocate for wellness and exercise. And there she was on her vacation—getting out and actually practicing what she preaches.

Vocativ isn’t part of the establishment press, and the closest we’ve ever been to the official “pool” of reporters who follow around the Obamas is the pool back at the hotel. So maybe we just never got the memo about the rules of engagement while POTUS and FLOTUS are on holiday.

It’s hardly controversial to say that the president and his family deserve some privacy—everyone does. But there is, of course, a heated debate around the administration’s relationship with the news media and its tightly scripted control of images, which The New York Times has called “Orwellian.”

Do the White House spin doctors have a right to exercise control over access to the first lady while she’s exercising? And on a public road, where we were working long before she came by on a power walk? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

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