The Upshot

First lady went to Spain to spend time with grieving friend

Holly Bailey
The Upshot

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First Lady Michelle Obama took a lot of grief for her decision to vacation in Spain last week, a glitzy getaway that prompted one New York Daily News columnist to liken her to Marie Antoinette. But now we're learning more about the trip, which, despite the furor over its alleged excess, seems to have been launched with good intentions.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet, the first lady made the trip because she wanted to spend time with her best friend, Chicago physician Anita Blanchard, who lost her father this summer. Blanchard (who is married to President Obama's best friend, Marty Nesbitt) planned a Spanish vacation with her daughter and invited the first lady and her daughters to come along. Michelle, who missed Blanchard's father's funeral in July, agreed and brought along her 9-year-old daughter, Sasha. The first couple's older daughter, Malia, is away at camp.

According to Sweet, one other mutual friend came along with her own two daughters. And according to the White House, all parties paid for their own hotel rooms and personal expenses.

[Video: Was Michelle's trip too lavish?]

Speaking of the hotel: As The Upshot speculated last week, it was the Secret Service that booked the Obama group's rooms at the luxury Hotel Villa Padierna, in part because agents could guard the perimeter of the property much better than they could at rival facilities.

The big question: Why did the White House wait nearly a week to get this information out? By simply refusing to comment with any detail on the first lady's trip, the White House gave serious ammunition to a story that probably wouldn't have been nearly as controversial if all the facts had been laid out in the beginning.

Sometimes it's the first lady herself who makes such media decisions. Laura Bush often refused to allow her press office to comment on stories about her or her daughters that she felt intruded on her personal life. But as Sweet notes, first ladies are public figures whether they like it or not.

[Photos: Michelle Obama on 'Best Dressed' list]

(Photo by AP/Sergio Torres)

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