Michelle Obama has no reason to complain about her treatment at the hands of Jodi Kantor, whose book, “The Obamas,’’ presents her in such overwhelmingly positive light that Connie Schultz’s New York Times review said admiringly that it was the first book about the Obama presidency to give the first lady her due.
So it’s more than surprising to see the first lady pushing back against . . . nothing, defensively telling Gayle King on “CBS This Morning,” “I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman — you know. But that’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced [that he was running for president] : That I’m some angry black woman.”
I have just bought the book and have not read every word, but I have seen nothing in either the book or any quotes pulled from it that suggests the first lady is any such thing, so why put that phrase out there? As when Richard Nixon insisted, “I am not a crook,” the takeaway is not that which was intended.
Kantor tells me Michelle Obama is not depicted as any kind of angry but merely as anxious for all to go well. Is that a bad thing?
“I’ve gotten notes from liberal Democrats who don’t like Rahm [Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, with whom the first lady is characterized as having had philosophical differences,] and they say, ‘I loved your story because I always imagined Michelle Obama had our back.’ ” Again, how is this a negative?
“Is it really a secret that not everything in this White House has gone perfectly?” Kantor asks. As for the push back, the author says, “My only theory is that so little has come out about the inner workings of the East Wing that her world has been very carefully guarded, and being written about is hard enough to begin with.” Gosh, Jodi, such a hater you are. Kantor says that, if anything, she feels her nuanced portrait was “humanizing.”
Of course, most story subjects would prefer hard labor to being humanized. But do the Obamas really want to put out there that writing about them, even sympathetically, is too painful for them to bear? No.
As stories of clashes between East Wing and West, and spouses and staff, go, those I’ve seen reported in “The Obamas” really boil down to — I hope you’re ready for this — staff infighting. (And in the immortal words of Clarence Thomas, whoop-dee-damn-do.) In the book, Michelle Obama is the one who comes out looking wise, right-minded and above the fray.
Which, unfortunately, is not at all how she seemed in the interview with King. There, she seemed thin-skinned. That’s especially unfortunate because it only reinforces the conservative talking point that her husband has never been vetted by an adoring press and doesn’t take criticism particularly well.
I don’t expect another sit-down with Michelle Obama after writing this, but what message does it send to be mischaracterizing how you’ve been mischaracterized to the famous best friend of one of your husband’s biggest supporters?
Though I’m sure it felt like a nice warm bath at the time, King’s gushing was not a particularly awesome optic for the White House.
Obama’s main message to Kantor in the interview was, “Hey, you are not in my head, so don’t talk about what I think or how I feel.” Fair enough, though is autobiography the only appropriate coverage, then? (With friends interviewing friends, we’re almost there already; next, it will be only blood relations who are granted interviews — and no second cousins, either.)
But what was Obama doing in the interview if not exactly what she’d accused Kantor of — that is, talking about something she knows only secondhand, given that she admitted she has not read the book?
Maybe in lashing out, she’s unleashing some frustration over criticism that has nothing to do with anything in the book.
She was due for a misstep, having had a nearly error-free few years in the White House. She is widely admired, and every time some fool does something like forward an e-mail referring to her as Mrs. YoMama, as the Republican speaker of the Kansas House recently did, or make a loud and unseemly public announcement about her physical appearance, as Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner did, it only makes them look small.
It’s got to be hard to hear such idiocy, but until now, she was too smart to punch down.
That some critics are driven wild by the idea of a black first family in the people’s house is more than obvious. But why give them what they wanted, which was a display of resentment to feast upon?