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Was President Obama endangered by premature news reports of his arrival in Afghan warzone?

Democrat president Barack addressing US troops at Bagram air force base Friday night 12-3-10

A growing flap -- and concerns -- over President Obama's personal safety and security in the Afghan war zone tonight, given that some American news outlets reported he was there nearly a half-hour before Air Force One actually landed.

The concern is not just factual. Thus alerted, an enemy with a shoulder-fired missile near Bagram Air Base outside Kabul could have fired on the president's plane or its decoys.

The president is over the Atlantic Ocean now on a 15-hour return trip following a....

...three-hour-25-minute stay at Bagram and a refueling stop in Germany. He'll return to the White House early Saturday morning and is expected to make a statement about the newly-completed U.S.-Korean trade agreement, which had stalled during his recent visit to Seoul.

According to news pool reports from Air Force One, already White House officials are investigating how the news embargo was dangerously broken first by ABC News and then CNN and MSNBC.

The president is almost always accompanied by a shifting team of pool reporters. Though they don't necessarily see the chief executive on every outing, they are along or in the vicinity on virtually all such trips, including Obama's frequent golf games.

The agreement between any administration and the news media is that on such dangerous forays into war zones, news of the trip is embargoed until the president is on the ground or in some cases already departed the area.

The reality, however, is that even before a landing, hundreds if not thousands of people are aware of a secret trip. And the destination is obvious.

Since President George W. Bush surprised U.S. troops in Iraq one Thanksgiving Day, such an at least annual travel homage for Bush or Dick Cheney, Obama or Vice President Joe Biden has become de rigeur, especially in holiday seasons.

As The Ticket reported here earlier today in greater detail, Obama's trip was particularly predictable since he, his family and numerous Chicago friends are scheduled to leave the White House for Hawaii on Dec. 18 for another two-week holiday vacation. Had he not made a frontline appearance before hitting the beach and golf course there, he would no doubt have received abundant critcism over his attitude toward less fortunate service personnel.

As Air Force One was nearing Bagram Friday evening local time, pool reporters began preparing the news for release by home offices. But when they contacted editors, the traveling reporters were informed the news was already widely known back home. ABC News had broken the news nearly 20 minutes previously, quickly followed by some but not all hungry competitors.

In fact, according to TVNewser, Fox News Channel was the only major news outlet to strictly honor the Obama security embargo, waiting and reporting the president's arrival in Afghanistan two minutes after White House press aides gave the official OK.

Some details of the president's plans in Afghanistan were also reported incorrectly initially, and his helicopter trip into Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai was canceled due to weather concerns.

The fault might rest with defense officials and a misunderstanding. ABC says that an hour before the president's arrival, it was informed of a military video feed of the upcoming presidential event in an aircraft hangar at Bagram and told there was no embargo. So reporter Martha Raddatz, already in Afghanistan on a separate trip, went live with the story, citing unnamed sources. Competitors stampeded behind.

The dangerous premature report is likely to cause a tightening of security for future Obama trips. In his new book "Decision Points," former President Bush details the secrecy involved in one of his holiday trips to the Iraq war zone. According to Bush, he and national security adviser Condi Rice were hidden in the backseat of a Secret Service car leaving the president's Texas ranch late one evening.

The long overnight voyage was kept so secret that even a detachment of Secret Service agents at the ranch was unaware until the next day that the commander-in-chief had been spirited halfway around the world by conspiring security colleagues. Such, obviously, was not the case Friday.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press (Obama at Bagram Air Base, 12/3/10).

Comments () | Archives (17)

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omg who cares.

I am not a "fan" of Barack Obama. However, at no time should his life be put at risk, period. Any reporters and/or media outlets that released the embargoed news should be banned from future coverage, at the very least.

See, e.g.,

OMG! If anything had happened, Biden would be the President!

John--I did not vote for Obama, and feel that his policies have hurt our country, but he is still our President and, to answer your question, I care. As a United States miltary officer, I took an oath to defend the President with my own life if necessary.

David L. Kutzler, Major (Ret.), USAF

He was never in any danger. Our enemies know a good thing when they see it.

The Clown Show.

The President was never in any danger from foreign enemies. They all read Clausewitz, even the ones who read the Koran.

"When your enemy is intent on destroying himself, get out of his way".

We are in a lot of trouble.

Interesting that Fox News, the much despised, is the only one to honor the news embargo, the news black out in the interest of the security of the President of the United States. Wow. Those people must think patriotism is like, really something they care about, and not something to be abandoned in a moment.

Why does ABC, MSNBC and CNN hate the President?? Seems FOX news is the only responsible news outlet.

Damn Fox news for taking the security of the president seriously. After all they are not real journalist and thus don't hold the same "high standards" of the real "professionals" in the mainstream media. How dare they be so responsible?

On the other hand, since more people get their news from Fox compared to the others, the damage done was limited.

Who Cares? I do!... he's the current President of the USA!
BTW John; I bet ur not a Veteran!

The Taliban never had a better friend than the bumbler in chief. A real president might decide to fight the war and win it as opposed to the bumbler's cut and run strategy.

"According to news pool reports from Air Force One, already White House officials are investigating how the news embargo was dangerously broken first by ABC News and then CNN and MSNBC."

Gee, you don't think they're experiencing buyers' remorse do you?

Ha Ha! "Buyers' remorse."

The Empire Strikes Back, Again...

The only reason Fox followed the rules were because if they had reported this news it would have made President Obama look good. This was positive news about the President of the United States who just so happen to be their President to whether they like it or not. Now if it would have been something to bring this President down or would have put him in a negative light FOX WOULD HAVE LED THE WAY AND THAT YOU CAN TAKE TO THE BANK AND FOLLOW THE RICH JOURNALISTS, BECK, LIMBAUGH, PALIN, HANNITY, AND O'REILLY. ALL OF THE NEWS ORGANIZATION NEED TO TREAT THIS MAN LIKE THEY WOULD HAVE TREATED THE OTHERS AND OBSERVE HIS SAFETY AND RESPECT PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, HIS FAMILY AND THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENCY. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHEN OUR PRESIDENT TOOK OFFICE WAS THERE SOMETHING IN THE RULES THAT STATED NOW IS THE TIME TO BE IGNORANT BECAUSE THIS HAS BECOME THE RULE IN CONGRESS AND THE NEWS. GROW UP!!

The LAMESTREAM media puts the President's safety and well-being, to say nothing of America's prestige, at risk in their efforts to scoop the competition.

ONLY Fox News (of the major news outlets) followed the carefully designed protocol.

Shame on all of them and bravo to you Fox.

the real news here is that he didn't use Air Force One for travel to his next round of golf.

No-one endangered the President but himself. There is absolutely nothing useful he could do in Afghanistan that he couldn't do in Washington. So the trip was nothing more than a PR exercise. And who told the media of the trip so they could tell the story before the embargo time? No-one but the President's own PR staff, otherwise there wouldn't have been a story to tell so the trip would be pointless.

We'll never know whether he really was at risk, but if he was, it was by his own actions. And of course the real risk then is taken by his staff, flight crew etc. who have no choice but to go where he leads but are still targets in the same aircraft. So if there was real risk it was taken by innocent people who probably had no input into whether to make the trip, and then what to sound of about to the media about it when seeking the best spin possible. In summary, he is the President but he's really only another vote seeking politician.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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