Washington isn’t just the seat of power in America, it’s also the world’s biggest fishbowl and there is no bigger fish than the President and his First Lady. So when New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor focused her attention on Michelle Obama and her frustrations in her role as the second billed star in a history making accomplishment, she ruffled some feelings within the White House.
How much weight you give to the accuracy of this book has to go back to how much trust you have in the Bob Woodward style of writing books about people based upon second and third hand sources. My take as a journalist is I take these kind of gossipy, unsubstantiated stories with a certain degree of wariness. I won’t go so far as to say the author got the story wrong, but she’s trying to sell a book and she needs a hook to separate hers from the many others already written about the Obamas. If she found one nobody else did, good for her. I know how the sausage gets made so I’m not as wowed.
Kantor said: “I interviewed 33 White House staffers, most of them many times. I wouldn’t trade that for a quick interview with the president, because I’m not sure he’s at liberty to discuss the real questions I asked in this book. In a way, it goes to Barack Obama’s own predicament as president: He’s such a gifted storyteller. Yet can he really tell his own story anymore?”
The White House response: ‘This is the author’s take, reflecting her own opinions, on a remarkably strong relationship the President and First Lady – both of whom share an unwavering commitment to each other, and to improving the lives of Americans. The book, an overdramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years. The author last interviewed the Obamas in 2009 for a magazine piece, and did not interview them for this book. The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the President and First Lady, reflect little more than the author’s own thoughts. These second-hand accounts are staples of every Administration in modern political history and often exaggerated.”
Decide for yourself who’s got more to lose or gain here: The White House trying to put the best face on the Obama’s marriage or an author with a book to sell?
I listened to Kantor on NPR’s Fresh Air program today and I came away with a totally different impression of her and the book than I had previously. She clearly feels warmly toward the Obamas, particularly Michelle. She said at one point despite the sensationalism of some reports, Michelle doesn’t hate Rahm Emanuel. What was going on is the natural friction between the First Lady’s staff in the East Wing and the President’s staff in the West Wing.
Anybody know how many people are responsible for the president’s schedule? Two? Ten? Try 33 on the scheduling staff. Now balance that against Michelle wondering if the president isn’t being over-scheduled or will he be able to attend a school function for his daughters?
Michelle Obama had to grow into her role as The First Lady as much as her husband has had to grow into hers. It’s been more difficult than she expected, but she’s risen to the challenge. So has her husband for whom her support is absolute, total and unshakable.
It’s doubtful I’ll pay to read The Obamas but if I saw a copy at the library, it’s probably worth checking out.
ADDENDUM: But don’t give Mrs. Obama a copy as a birthday present. You might get it flung back at you faster than you hand it over.
Speaking to Oprah gal pal Gayle King on the CBS Morning News, the First Lady made it clear she did not approve of Kantor putting his business on the street.
“I never read these books, so I’ve just gotten in the habit of not reading other people’s impressions of people.”
“I guess it’s just more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here,” she said. “That’s been an image people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I’m some kind of angry black woman.”
Maybe Michelle isn’t an angry Black woman, but she isn’t remotely happy with Kantorr trying to climb in her head.
- New book on Obamas says there were clashes between Michelle and aides (csmonitor.com)
- Matt Lauer Grills Controversial Obama Book Author Over White House Pushback (mediaite.com)
- Michelle Obama’s First Days As First Lady: ‘Alone, Frightened’ (maboulette.wordpress.com)
- Robert Gibbs Said A Very Bad Word About Michelle Obama (buzzfeed.com)