- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2012

The White House got its knickers in a twist Monday over what it said were false reports in the British press that first lady Michelle Obama went on a shopping spree at a luxury lingerie boutique.

“It’s utterly false,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “And it’s irresponsible of an American news organization to repeat the story, even allowing that it could be true. So it’s wrong.”

Britain’s Daily Mail, Sun and Telegraph all reported that Mrs. Obama and the queen of Qatar shut down the Madison Avenue store of Agent Provocateur, a high-end purveyor of frilly and lacy underthings. The reports claimed that the first lady’s $50,000 splurge was one reason the New York City shop saw a 12 percent increase in sales last year.

The first lady’s director of communications, Kristina Schake, called the reports “100 percent false.” And when a reporter asked Mr. Carney to “squash this rumor,” the president’s spokesman, a former journalist, responded with contempt.

“At least when I was a reporter, usually the standard for British tabloid reporting was the assumption that it was false,” Mr. Carney said. “In this case, it’s utterly false.”

The articles provided no details about when Mrs. Obama supposedly purchased the goods. Even the retailer said the reports were “incorrect,” telling the Daily Mail, “Agent Provocateur never discusses any of its clientele or their purchases.”

Any administration is sensitive to reports of indulgences or frivolous spending. The claims about Mrs. Obama came just after the release of a new book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor that included a story of the first lady hosting a lavish Alice-in-Wonderland Halloween party in 2009, while the country was in the grips of a deep recession.

Last year, a single news photographer took pictures of Mrs. Obama shopping at the discount store Target in Alexandria. Critics accused the White House of arranging the photo-op in a calculated attempt to tamp down criticism of the first lady’s widely reported expensive tastes in vacations and clothing.

She also came under scrutiny for her high-end fashion on display during the first family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii. She sported one dress by designer Sophie Theallet that would have cost almost $2,000 when she bought it in 2009.

Then again, the Obamas are wealthy. While not in Mitt Romney territory (the GOP presidential front-runner had income of $21.6 million in 2010), the first couple reported income of $1.8 million in 2010 and $5.6 million in 2009.