NBC Touts Michelle Obama's Oscar Appearance as 'Part of a Carefully Crafted PR Plan'

In a report on Tuesday's NBC Today that only briefly mentioned criticism of First Lady Michelle Obama's appearance during Sunday's Academy Awards, White House correspondent Kristen Welker gushed that people were "still buzzing" over the "Oscar finale that no one saw coming."

Welker described Obama's recent "media blitz": "The First Lady has been popping up all over the place lately, on Jimmy Fallon, sharing a moment with Big Bird...And talking hairdos with Rachel Ray." Welker then cited New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor seeing it as "all a part of a carefully crafted PR plan." A sound bite of Kantor followed: "It's almost as if her real strategy is a kind of charm offensive that is then intended to build support for her husband's initiatives."

The segment then became an effort to promote Obama: "Aides say behind the scenes, Michelle Obama is working with her team to develop a second-term agenda....So will the Harvard-educated lawyer take on more policy-heavy goals in the next four years?"

Kantor observed:

The one rule that Michelle Obama always follows is that she never wants to distract from her husband's agenda. It's possible that she might address tougher, more controversial issues, but I do not believe, based on what aides have told me, that she would do it if she thought that she was going to cause a furor and distraction from what her husband was trying to get done.

At the beginning of the report, Welker noted: "...conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin is critical, writing the Oscar appearance made the White House and First Lady seem small." Rubin explained: "There is a sense of going too far and too much and becoming so ubiquitous that people don't consider you something special. She's the First Lady for goodness sakes, she's just not a Hollywood celebrity."

The only other critique of the First Lady during the segment was this comment from co-host Matt Lauer following Welker's piece: "I have heard a lot of people say, 'I don't know about the Academy Awards, too close to Hollywood.' Maybe that was one step too far."

Welker's segment was replayed in the 9 a.m. ET hour.

More significant criticism of Obama's Oscar appearance came from an unlikely source later in the show, liberal pundit Donny Deutsch. During a panel discussion early in the 8 a.m. ET hour, Deutsch declared: "She was what I call an uninvited guest....She showed up at the two-minute warning, in effect, at a point where maybe I want more Jack Nicholson. And I think there was an assumptive, elitist quality to it..."

After getting push back from fellow panelist Star Jones, Deutsch reiterated: "I think three out of four Americans will tell you, I don't want a politician's wife there at that point, I want Jack Nicholson....you are putting politics, like it or not, in a space that people are not necessarily invited into their home for....don't show up at a place where I have no choice whether I want to watch you or not."

In response to Deutsch's concern, Lauer countered: "She is clearly very popular with a percentage of the population, and she seems to be reveling in that popularity. Is that necessarily a bad thing?"


Here is a full transcript of Welker's February 26 report:

7:31AM ET

MATT LAUER: First Lady Michelle Obama, she's making a lot of public appearances recently and she's drawing some criticism because of that. NBC's White House correspondent Kristen Welker has more on that. Kristen, good morning to you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Camera Ready; Michelle Obama Redefines Role as First Lady]

KRISTEN WELKER: Matt, good morning to you. The First Lady will be hitting the road this week to promote the third anniversary of her Let's Move campaign, aimed at combating childhood obesity. But it's the media blitz over the last few days, capped by that performance at the Oscars, that has everyone talking. People are still buzzing about Michelle Obama's Oscar finale that no one saw coming.

MICHELLE OBAMA: And the Oscar goes to, Argo.

WELKER: Even an Iranian news agency covered it, but photo-shopped sleeves and a higher neckline to follow the country's strict dress rules for women. In this country, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin is critical, writing the Oscar appearance made the White House and First Lady seem small.

JENNIFER RUBIN [WASHINGTON POST]: There is a sense of going too far and too much and becoming so ubiquitous that people don't consider you something special. She's the First Lady for goodness sakes, she's just not a Hollywood celebrity.

WELKER: White House officials wouldn't respond, but note most of her recent appearances have been focused on Let's Move. The First Lady has been popping up all over the place lately, on Jimmy Fallon, sharing a moment with Big Bird.

OBAMA: Eating healthy is easy and it's fun and delicious, too.

WELKER: And talking hairdos with Rachel Ray.

OBAMA: This is my mid-life crisis, the bangs.

WELKER: Journalist Jodi Kantor says it's all a part of a carefully crafted PR plan.

JODI KANTOR [NEW YORK TIMES]: It's almost as if her real strategy is a kind of charm offensive that is then intended to build support for her husband's initiatives.

WELKER: Aides say behind the scenes, Michelle Obama is working with her team to develop a second-term agenda, something all first ladies must contend with.

ANITA MCBRIDE [CHIEF OF STAFF TO LAURA BUSH]: The difference between a first term and a second term really is the fact that you've got your grounding and all of the lessons learned of a first term, now you can pick up and have the freedom to really act.

WELKER: So will the Harvard-educated lawyer take on more policy-heavy goals in the next four years?

KANTOR: The one rule that Michelle Obama always follows is that she never wants to distract from her husband's agenda. It's possible that she might address tougher, more controversial issues, but I do not believe, based on what aides have told me, that she would do it if she thought that she was going to cause a furor and distraction from what her husband was trying to get done.

WELKER: Now as for her Oscar appearance, the First Lady's office says, "As a movie lover, she was honored to present the award and celebrate the artists who inspire us all."

By the way, she was not the first member of the first family to participate in the Academy Awards. President Reagan delivered a video address in 1980 and former President Clinton made a surprise appearance at this year's Golden Globes, to name just a few. Matt.

LAUER: Alright. Kristen Welker, thank you very much. I've heard mixed reviews on this. The Jimmy Fallon bit to promote Let's Move, I have heard almost unanimous rave reviews on, but I have heard a lot of people say, "I don't know about the Academy Awards, too close to Hollywood." Maybe that was one step too far.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Well, it's a good topic for the Professionals, they're going to weigh in on this in a few moments. So we'll check on their feelings about it.

LAUER: That's right.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC