We Have A Few Questions About Melania Trump's "Be Best"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.
The White House just wanted a nice photo op in the Rose Garden when it trotted out Melania Trump to announce her new Be Best programme on Monday afternoon. But then, pesky journalists decided to ruin it by doing things like asking questions, and the White House communications office issued a strongly worded statement in response. Because seriously, how dare we?
Here's everything we know about Be Best: It's meant to help kids improve their social, emotional, and physical health, and it consists of three pillars, which include "wellbeing, social media, and opioid abuse." If you comb through the transcript of Melania's speech on Monday and the Be Best website, you'll find precious few other details.
Among other questions, we asked the White House how the programme will be implemented and haven't received any responses. And when we asked for more details about anti-bullying and emotional-learning programmes for kids Melania plans to support that she brought up in her speech, such as the Buddy Bench and the Viking Huddle class, the White House told us to Google them. "We will send you her speech, and then a quick Google search will likely give you all that you need," said spokesperson Stephanie Grisham. If the White House is serious about supporting an initiative, shouldn't its flacks have all the info at their fingertips?
A lot of news outlets picked up on the fact that the cyberbullying brochure issued as part of the initiative bears an uncanny resemblance to an Obama-era Federal Trade Commission document, pointed out by Ryan Mac, a reporter at BuzzFeed. (They updated the phone icons ever-so-slightly to make them look more modern, though!)
After BuzzFeed asked the White House how much the first lady was involved in drafting the document, it changed the language on the Be Best website describing it from "a booklet by First Lady Melania Trump and the Federal Trade Commission" to "a Federal Trade Commission booklet, promoted by first lady Melania Trump." When we asked about it, the communications office sent us the transcript of the speech (for the second time).
In its strongly worded statement, the White House communications office went off on journalists who covered the FTC booklet. "After giving a strong speech that was met with a standing ovation and positive feedback, the focus from opposition media has been on [the FTC booklet]," said the statement. Despite getting information from the FTC, the White House complained, "some media have chosen to take a day meant to promote kindness and positive efforts on behalf of children, to instead lob baseless accusations towards the First Lady and her new initiatives."
The communications office added that the White House actually worked with the FTC on the booklet. Nathaniel Wood, an associate director at the FTC, said in a statement, "We frequently work with members of Congress, the White House, other government agencies, and the private sector. ... We were excited that Mrs. Trump distributed this important information about staying safe online." So why wasn't this disclosed up front?
Perhaps there was too much coverage of the FTC booklet. The media should be able to criticize itself, and when it comes down to it, most Americans don't really care about a regurgitated government document (though they still have a right to know what's going on within their own government).
But there are so many other issues with Be Best. The programme, the way it was presented, suffers from a lack of cohesion and detail. Compare Be Best to Let's Move, Michelle Obama's signature initiative, and tell me which one you know more about after reading their websites. There is little to no actual information about what Be Best will actually do.
In the last line of its statement, the White House encouraged journalists to, "Be Best in their own professions, and focus on some of the children and programmes Mrs. Trump highlighted in her remarks yesterday."
Well...we're trying! You don't tell us anything.
Here are a few questions we asked the White House that haven't been answered so far: In what ways are the three pillars of the programme interrelated? For instance, how is opioid abuse connected to social media and bullying? What are the next steps in terms of implementation? What does the timeline look like? How will you measure success and track results?
The New York Times, before Be Best was rolled out, noted that Melania's "programme will primarily repackage projects that already exist," including a programme by the National Safety Council to encourage people to talk to their doctors about opioid abuse, as well as the FTC guidelines about social media. Which doesn't answer what, exactly, the first lady will contribute.
Aside from expecting glowing coverage for Be Best just because it purports to extend kindness, the administration appears to have distracted us from another major announcement made on Monday. Within an hour of Melania's press conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that undocumented parents and children entering the U.S. will be separated at the border. ("If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border.") On the same day, President Trump asked Congress to cancel $15 billion in unspent government funding, including $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). How's that for promoting kindness and positive efforts on behalf of children?
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