WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Barack Obama's two daughters were whisked into their new schools on Monday past a line of waiting photographers.
If custom is any guide, the news media will keep their distance now that they have captured 10-year-old Malia in her puffy pink jacket and 7-year-old Sasha with her pigtails, pink camouflage backpack and turquoise Uglydoll. But protecting the privacy of the presidential children is more difficult than ever.
Even if White House photographers are no problem for the Obamas , there are still the paparazzi to worry about, as illustrated by the "beefcake" photos of a shirtless president-elect taken during the Obama family vacation in Hawaii. Then there's any fourth-grader with a cell phone camera and a Facebook page.
"It is an exaggerated example of what parents face routinely when their kids are online," said Carolyn Jabs, who writes a syndicated column called Growing Up Online. "For the Obama girls, that is a given that it will get out of hand."
Blogs have already critiqued what every member of the family wears. A bad hair day, schoolyard gossip or a manipulated photo can cause problems for any child, Jabs said. Imagine if the greater free world were watching. "Mean things about them online are going to be problematic," she said. "They're going to have to develop a thicker skin in the way all celebrities do."
At Sidwell Friends, children are not allowed cell phones at school, which should keep the girls shielded at least through the school day. Malia is in fifth grade at the middle school campus in the District of Columbia, while Sasha is in second grade at the Bethesda, Md., elementary-school campus.
"We do hold students accountable for cyberbehavior," said Associate Head of School Ellis Turner. "I think our students understand that we expect them to be responsible Internet users." The school won't talk about special security precautions but has experience with the Secret Service from former students Chelsea Clinton and Al Gore III, the son of former Vice President Al Gore.
Tuition is nearly $30,000 for its more than 1,000 K-12 students.
Amy Carter's trips to public school became "a pretty big circus" with photographers lying in wait, said Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H.W. Bush and author of "All the President's Children." Bill and Hillary Clinton took the advice of Jacqueline Kennedy to establish strict privacy for daughter Chelsea. In the Clinton era, aides would sometimes call publishers to keep stories about Chelsea under wraps, Wead said.
The national press has generally kept its distance: NBC's "Today" show crew left Sidwell Friends on Monday even before the girls arrived. Like other media outlets, NBC will allow the girls privacy except when they are appearing in public or there is a great public interest, as on Monday. "What we tried to do was cover the story but be respectful and discreet about it," said Mark Whitaker, NBC's Washington bureau chief.
But gentlemen's agreements mean little when any child, school employee or curious onlooker can act as his own publishing house. "It's a new age," Wead said. "Every word is worth money. It's currency. Every photograph is worth money.
It'll take a lot of cooperation and the school year's a long time." Ann Stock, who was social secretary in the Clinton White House, said she can't imagine fellow students causing problems online. "Kids are very protective of each other," she said. "You're talking about a school environment and I generally think that once they start school they become family and friends with each other."
The Obama transition team, acknowledging public interest in the girls, posted photographs of the family getting ready for school on the photo sharing site Flick'r on Monday. "There will be news stories about them no matter how careful and cooperative the media is and how careful the parents are. Something they say or do will become of great public interest and delight or controversy," Wead said.
How Sasha and Malia handle the media attention will depend in part on their parents. "The children will look to their parents for clues: 'Are we victims here or are we having fun?"' Wead said. "It looks to me that they are communicating 'We're having fun,' so that will make a really big difference for the girls."
--- On the Net: http://change.gov/schoolpics.