PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Whether or not he would wade into the water became the question hanging over President Barack Obama’s overnight stay on the Gulf Coast.
Obama answered it within hours of his arrival in Panama City Beach, when he took his daughter Sasha, 9, out for a dip to prove to the nation’s skeptics that the Gulf of Mexico is safe and clean despite the millions of gallons of oil that flowed into it over the past four months.
It’s exactly the image Florida officials wanted. Except the president and his daughter were not swimming in the Gulf. They swam in Saint Andrew Bay, water off of Alligator Point near the restaurant where they ate lunch. The Gulf was closed to swimming in that area because of riptide.
Unfortunately for the reporters traveling with the president, the White House took control of the photograph of the outing.
A staff photographer snapped the image and the White House released it online, while photographers with the news agencies traveling with the president were holed up inside a banquet room in the hotel.
Earlier Saturday, after delivering remarks the US Coast Guard office in Panama City, Obama told reporters he planned to swim, but also said he’d be taking a dip away from their prying eyes.
The president joked that the last time he went swimming, in Hawaii, the images of him without his shirt on wound up on the covers of magazines. A reporter remarked that perhaps that’s a good thing. First lady Michelle Obama, who was standing nearby, chimed in: “No it’s not,” she said, shaking her head with a smile.
Obama and Sasha spent about an hour and a half on Panama City Beach, in the water and lunching at Lime’s Bayside Bar and Grill.
There the president, the first lady and their daughter shared fish tacos, chicken fingers, guacamole and a burger at the open-air restaurant on a long pier, which was in walking distance to the Obamas’ hotel, the Bay Point Marriott.