WASHINGTON -- After first lady Michelle Obama was photographed shopping at Target, her right-wing critics -- including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh -- pounced Friday as if she had done something wrong, which of course she had not.
Mrs. Obama spent about 40 minutes at a Target in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday, wearing sunglasses and Nike cap. She walked the aisles fairly unnoticed. It's very rare for Mrs. Obama to pop into a retail outlet, so the Target trip was newsworthy.
The outing was not on her schedule -- personal stuff never is. The news broke through pictures shot by veteran Associated Press White House photographer Charles Dharapak.
Was it a photo op? Was AP tipped off by a White House official who wanted the picture out to bolster a storyline of Mrs. Obama as an "everywoman?"
I asked AP spokesman Paul Colford how AP knew to be at the Target -- miles from the White House -- and he replied, "Charlie Dharapak is a well-wired AP White House photographer with good sources."
I take from that answer there was some kind of a tip.
President Obama and Michelle carefully manage their images. Almost every photo you see of them has been staged in some way --from the people around them to the scenery in the background.
At least an AP photographer was there to record it no matter what got him to that Target on Thursday. There have been times where I have learned about Mrs. Obama's whereabouts only through an official White House photo or someone's Tweet.
Limbaugh on his show said, "It has gotten so bad, they had to send Mooochelle out there in a Lady Gaga-type getup. She went shopping at Target. Have you seen the pictures?"
One of the pictures clearly shows a Lysol product, but one can't be 100 percent certain from the photo if it was Mrs. Obama's purchase. That did not stop Limbaugh from a rant on why she was buying the product.
Mrs. Obama has very high-end, elite, expensive shopping tastes and has taken some lavish vacations. But fair is fair. She also likes to shop at Target and has talked about the loss of her ability to just roam the aisles of one of her favorite stores.
Mrs. Obama's other purchases on her Thursday Target visit, I confirmed with a White House source, included treats for Bo, the family dog: dog food and dog toys.
Beck, of course, is entitled to his opinion, but should frame his arguments without making up stuff. Beck went on a tirade against Mrs. Obama over the Target outing and said, "I don't believe you were shopping at Target when you were not first lady."
Mrs. Obama has talked about her fondness for Target -- including the one on Roosevelt Road in Chicago. It's an easy fact check, but Beck didn't bother.
In a January 2010 interview with a group of print reporters -- I was one of them -- Mrs. Obama, asked about what she missed in Chicago, said "going to the Target on Roosevelt Road and going to the Dominick's. I mean, small things."
In a March 2011 symposium on first ladies sponsored by American University, former first lady chief of staff Susan Sher reflected on Mrs. Obama wishing she could go out and shop. I wrote then, "Mrs. Obama has talked about missing being able to shop at the Roosevelt Road Target in Chicago, a place Sher said the first lady can visualize 'up and down every aisle."'
President Obama on Friday told Michael Smerconish, a radio talk show host, that if there is one thing his wife loves to do, it is to "go shopping at Target."
Said Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama's communications chief in a Friday statement, "It is not uncommon for the first lady to slip out to run an errand, eat at a local restaurant or otherwise enjoy the city outside the White House gates."