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PolitiFact: Glenn Beck off the mark on first ladies' staff counts

The statement

Says Michelle Obama has 43 people on her staff; Nancy Reagan had just 3.

Glenn Beck, on his radio program

The ruling

Allegations that Michelle Obama has an excessively large staff compared to other first ladies is nothing new. In 2009, FactCheck.org and Snopes.com debunked the claim circulated in a chain e-mail that Obama had an "unprecedented" number of staffers, with 22.

Here, Beck has upped the alleged number to 43. And he claims that when Nancy Reagan was first lady, she had just three.

We went first to the "2010 Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff," the latest online data, and did a search for anyone with the words "first lady" in his or her title. That turned up 15 staffers. We also searched "social" and found three more on Obama's staff.

But titles don't give the full picture. Myra Gutin, an expert on first ladies and politics at Rider University in New Jersey, said that as of 2009, Obama had 22 people on her staff.

Catherine McCormick-Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Obama, told us via e-mail that her staff is now closer to 25.

At that size, Obama's staff is similar to those of her predecessors.

A 2009 Associated Press story citing Laura Bush's chief of staff, said she had a staff between 24 and 26.

And according to the Clinton Presidential Library, Hillary Rodham Clinton's staff fluctuated from 13 in 1993 to 19 by 2000, the wire service story said.

Beck claimed Reagan had just three employees on her staff.

We turned to Sheila Tate, vice chair of the Washington, D.C., communications firm Powell Tate, who was Nancy's Reagan's press secretary.

By Tate's count, there were 15 people on Reagan's staff. That includes four on the press team (including Tate); two in the projects office; two in the advance office; three in the social office; a personal secretary and her assistant; and the chief of staff and his assistant.

There are other people who worked in the East Wing, Tate said, including a large social and calligraphy staff that has nothing to do with changes in administrations.

Tate is not sure what jobs Beck counted to get his number (and our efforts to reach his show were unsuccessful), but by any measure, she said, the claim that Reagan had only three on her staff is "clearly wrong."

Beck's outrage is based on numbers wildly off the mark. We rate his claim Pants on Fire.

This ruling has been edited for print. For more rulings, go to PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Glenn Beck off the mark on first ladies' staff counts 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 8:46pm]
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