Spending a rare morning with her dad off the campaign trail one Sunday last August, Malia Obama wasnear the White House with the first family on her way to church, when a reporter shouted a question about her summer at camp. It was "good, thank you," she said, in true first-daughter form: Concise, but courteous, poised.
The 10-year-old girl America saw in a bright red dress on Nov. 4, 2008, beaming up at her father as he was elected the first African-American president of the United States, now nearly matched his six-foot-one-inch height. And by the time President Obama hands off his executive duties during Inauguration 2017, Malia and her younger sister Sasha will be a freshman in college and a sophomore in high school, respectively.
It's a phenomenon the country is familiar with, but which usually happens on the other coast, in the surreal world of Macaulay Culkins, Lindsay Lohans and other child stars of Tinseltown: Particularly in the case of two-term presidents, the entire world watches as first sons and daughters progress through adolescence, very much in the public eye, and very much held accountable for their family's reputation.
Despite rules and gentlemen's agreements that the press respect the privacy of the president's children, Malia and Sasha Obama have spent their formative years much more visible to the public than many of their predecessors. And aside from the obvious role of the Internet and social media, if there's a finger to be pointed for it, it's at their parents. Barack and Michelle Obama havefor speaking freely about the goings-on of their daughters' lives. Journalists knew the girls had spent a month at a New Hampshire summer camp, for instance, because Mr. Obama mentioned it in interviews.
The transparency hasn't been without its risks, and controversies. In October, a bomb threat was reported at Washington, D.C.'s Sidwell Friends School, which Malia and Sasha attend, and which incidentally has also enrolled in the past Chelsea Clinton, Tricia Nixon Cox, and Archibald Roosevelt.
And then there was the bizarre, seemingly interminable episode when Malia last year ventured to Mexico with friends for her spring break amid warnings from Texas law enforcement over the country's escalating violence. After stories and photos of the trip emerged online, the White House demanded news outlets remove them, leading to what remained for a time a cycle of dead links; an inexplicable void in the world wide web. Months later, a conservative watchdog group said it would sue the Secret Service for records showing how much it cost to protect the first daughter on her vacation.