THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Critics say White House set up girl's query

Mother says child wrote her own

“How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can, that help more of us?’’ sixth-grader Julia Hall of Malden asked President Obama at a town hall meeting on health care held in Portsmouth, N.H., on Tuesday. “How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can, that help more of us?’’ sixth-grader Julia Hall of Malden asked President Obama at a town hall meeting on health care held in Portsmouth, N.H., on Tuesday. (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
By Travis Andersen
Globe Correspondent / August 13, 2009

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The question an 11-year-old girl from Malden posed to President Obama this week has riled conservative critics who insist the girl was a plant by the White House.

The critics point to campaign donations and other partisan affiliations of the girl’s mother, Kathleen Manning Hall, who was an early Obama supporter. But a White House spokesman insisted yesterday that audience members had been selected randomly.

“The president asks people to raise their hands and picks on them,’’ White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing.

The girl, sixth-grader Julia Hall, asked Obama what she and other children should make of the signs outside his town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., that were “saying mean things’’ about his health care proposal.

“How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can, that help more of us?’’

In her online column, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin said, “As we always like to point out: There are no coincidences in Obama world.’’

The Washington Times also weighed in, and online critics found a 2008 post by Manning Hall on Blue Mass Group, a Democrat-learning political site in Massachusetts. In the post, Manning Hall asks readers for their support in her quest to become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

“I realized Barack Obama was a unique politician the first time I heard him speak, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where I was a volunteer,’’ she wrote. “I was simply blown away by his inspirational message, and I continued to follow his career.’’

Manning Hall denied yesterday that her daughter was used as a plant by the administration.

“A 100 percent flat denial, completely,’’ she said, adding that her daughter had told her before Obama began fielding questions that she wanted to ask one. The two discussed the question, Manning Hall said, and her daughter wrote it down on a slip of paper.

Manning Hall also said that prior to 2008, she had never worked in politics, beyond contacting her city councilor about local street repairs and other issues.

She has said that she had worked as a coordinator during the campaign for Massachusetts Women for Obama. The group had 93 members and raised nearly $9,000 during the campaign, according to online records.

Manning Hall was named Malden Democrat of the Year at a ceremony in March. She donated $1,750 to the Obama campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.

She is listed as a legal assistant at Looney & Grossman, a Boston law firm. Employees of the firm donated $3,000 to the Obama campaign, according to the center.

Tarah Donoghue, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Massachusetts, declined to comment on the allegations that Manning Hall’s daughter was a plant.

But she took exception to news reports of “angry mobs’’ protesting against Obama’s health care plan at town hall meetings across the country.

“They’re American people,’’ Donoghue said. “And they’re citizens rising up against a change they quite frankly don’t believe in. We encourage people to do it in a respectful manner.’’

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