For weeks now, author and New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor has been fighting a White House-led campaign against “The Obamas,” her book on the first couple. Exaggerations, claims the White House; Kantor stands by her reporting. Old news, claims the White House; Kantor notes that she interviewed 33 current and former White House aides. No interview with the principals, says the White House.
And to that one, Kantor came up with a legendary response. In an interview with Carol Felsenthal of Chicago Magazine, the author made this excuse for the lack of recent input from the Obamas (she did interview them in 2009):
The story I wanted to write was never going to come from the Obamas’ lips. There’s so much they can’t say.
And she piled on with this classic:
They know exactly who I am. We have an intense relationship. They really care about the Times, they read the Times. I’ve seen them at the [White House] Christmas party every year. After the big marriage piece was published in the New York Times Magazine, I brought my husband to the Christmas party. I walked up the Obamas, and I said, “Well, now you can check out who I’m married to,” and they thought that was very funny; they pretended to inspect [him].
Now we’re learning that Kantor is blessed with PR skills that not even White House handlers can match, especially if you consider elegant and seamless retraction of stupid statements a PR skill. Look at how Kantor managed to walk back her “intense” declaration in a recent interview in New York Magazine:
NY: So, you told Carol Felsenthal from Chicago magazine that you have, I think it was, “an intense relationship” with the Obamas.
JK: Oh, I’m so glad you’re asking about that! I wish I had said that differently because what I was trying to say is that I’ve been covering the Obamas since 2007, and the second story I ever wrote was one in which I broke the news of the tension between Barack Obama and his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. And from then until now, I’ve written a series of stories that are really close to home about them. I’ve written about race; I’ve written about their children, about their marriage; I’ve written about their family. I interviewed them for 40 minutes in the Oval Office about their marriage. Rachel Swarns and I traced Michelle Obama’s roots back to slavery and part of what is funny about the relationship is that I don’t. . .nobody has a lot of access to them. There is no journalist with whom they spend a tremendous amount of time. But what I was trying to get at is that sometimes when I do see them at media speeches and even briefly at the White House Christmas parties, the moment feels very intense. What feels more intense than even that is just writing so personally about a president and first lady and having done it for so long. And by the way, they cooperated with my stories for years and years and years and years.
That’s 226 words and 0 substance. The translation here, to the extent one is possible, appears to be as follows:
Well, it’s an intense relationship because I broke big news about them — intense congratulations to me! — and I’ve written about all these intense topics, and whenever I run into them at these big parties, it feels intense to me, even though I write in my book that the Obamas are terribly distant and almost robotic at official events.