Q: Will Marian Robinson, Barack Obama’s mother-in-law, receive a $160,000 government pension for babysitting her granddaughters during Obama’s time as president?
A: No. That false rumor originated from a fake news website.
Did a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request produce congressional budget documents revealing that Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother, was granted a lifetime $160,000 government pension when she leaves the White House for “services rendered as full-time/in-home caregiver” to granddaughters Malia and Sasha Obama?
The Boston Tribune, a fake news website, started this rumor with an October 2016 article titled “First Grandma Marian Robinson to Receive Lifetime $160K Government Pension.” The website is designed to look like the online version of a legitimate newspaper but is part of a broader fake news network called “Associated Media Coverage.”
The article claims that “First Grandma Marian Robinson, 79, will receive a lifetime 160K government pension when she leaves the White House next year, according to congressional budget statements.” It cites a Freedom of Information Act request as the source of these documents, but does not provide evidence of the request or a link to the alleged budget statements.
The article goes on to reference Robinson’s residence in the White House and travels abroad with the president’s family. It also cites supposed interviews with “Sally Kellner” of the National Taxpayers Union and Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming. Jenn Fedor, a spokeswoman for NTU, told us that there is no one by the name of “Sally Kellner” who works at the taxpayer group. “Everything about it is fake,” Fedor said of the story.
It is true that Robinson lives in the White House, often cares for her granddaughters, and occasionally joins the family on presidential trips. But she is not a government employee and will not receive a pension.
The Former Presidents Act grants lifetime pensions to former presidents. First ladies and other members of the presidential family do not receive pensions, although widows of former presidents may receive $20,000 per year. Only the former president’s spouse and children under 16 years old receive Secret Service protection after leaving the White House. Robinson’s status as first grandma is unofficial and does not afford her a government salary.
The fake news article claims: “While holding no official job title, Mrs. Robinson likely qualified for her lifetime pension under the ‘optional’ eligibility requirement for the Civil Service Retirement Act (CSRS).” The article links to a government benefits website that does not support these false claims.
Here’s what the CSRS website says:
The CSRS provides retirement funds to certain current and former federal employees who first entered service before 1987, well before Obama took office and Robinson moved into the White House. It has since been replaced by the Federal Employees Retirement System. Since Robinson is not and has never been a federal employee, she is not eligible for either of these programs.
Robinson lived most of her life in Chicago and worked as a bank secretary before becoming a stay-at-home mom to her children, Michelle and Craig. After caring for Sasha and Malia Obama during the 2008 campaign, Robinson moved into the White House with the family in 2009 and has lived there throughout the Obama presidency. In an essay she wrote for Essence magazine during the 2012 campaign, Robinson said, “My job here is the easiest one of all: I just get to be Grandma.”
The Boston Tribune is a fake news website operated by Associated Media Coverage, a known fake news network. The website previously used the Associated Media Coverage URL and title, but has since changed its name to the Boston Tribune and redirected the old URL to the new website. Its design and contact email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, remain the same. The change was made after it published numerous articles that other fact-checking websites have debunked.
Although the website does not provide a satire warning like some fake news websites, the unreliability of the story is clear through other means. The links provided in the story do not provide any supporting evidence for its claims, and the website does not inform readers of its mission, physical address or staff members. These are all signs of a fake news story.
Armstrong, Lorne. “First Grandma Marian Robinson to Receive Lifetime $160K Government Pension.” The Boston Tribune. 17 Oct 2016.
Ginsberg, Wendy and Richardson, Daniel. “Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits.” Congressional Research Service. 16 Mar 2016.
Thompson, Krissah and Eilperin, Juliet. “The elusive Mrs. R: Marian Robinson, the White House’s not-so-typical live-in grandma.” Washington Post. 31 Mar 2014.
“Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).” Benefits.gov.
“CSRS Information.” U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Swarns, Rachel. “Family Mainstay to Move In to White House.” New York Times. 9 Jan 2009.
“Associated Media Coverage.” Snopes.com. 8 Oct 2016.
Cave, Anthony. “Popular Internet story claims Arizona, Missouri and Texas enacted two-pet limit.” PolitiFact Arizona. 13 May 2016.
Fader, Carole. “Fact Check: Rumor is wrong on Muslim donations to terrorist’s family.” Florida Times-Union. 5 Jul 2016.