ABC's Cynthia McFadden was dripping with sugary admiration on Monday for President Obama's "not-so-secret weapon," First Lady Michelle Obama. She touted Obama as a big hugger" and "very warm in person."
Obama made statements like this that went unchallenged by McFadden: "I rarely step foot in the West Wing. In fact, people are shocked when they see me there." That sentiment of a hands-off policy flatly contradicts Jodi Kantor's reporting in the New York Times of definitive friction between the First Lady and the President's staff.
"She was sometimes harder on her husband’s team than he was, eventually urging him to replace them," wrote Kantor after interviewing current and former aides to the First Lady. She noted Michelle's "strains" with the President's advisers, "with Mrs. Obama reinforcing his instincts for ambitious but unpopular initiatives like the overhaul of health care and immigration laws, casting herself as a foil to aides more intent on preserving Congressional seats and poll numbers."
"She's her husband's not-so-secret weapon," McFadden fawned on Monday, before tossing softballs about home life. "The First Lady has long said her most important role is Mom-in-Chief. And now the teenager," cooed McFadden.
"I have a 14-year-old son. He's got a question. It's hard enough to be 14, he said, if your parents aren't the President and First Lady. If you don't live in the White House. How do you help her negotiate that really treacherous territory of 14?" McFadden asked Obama about her teenage daughter Malia. Ironically, Obama batted down that journalistic sympathy for her daughter. "Being 14 and, you know, having the President as your father is way down on the list of tough," she answered.
McFadden was quite generous to a former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, during the 2008 campaign, suggesting to her that a co-presidency with her husband Bill might be "a good idea" and lauding her as a "Good Methodist girl" after Clinton confided to her what "worries" her when she is "awake at night."
After a campaign rally late in the 2008 race, McFadden gushed to Clinton and then-candidate Obama that "You looked pretty good up there together." Echoing Democratic talking points, she added that "they genuinely seemed to have bonded over their singular mission to put a Democrat in the White House."
A transcript of the segment, which aired on October 8 on Good Morning America at 8:39 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
LARA SPENCER: And now, behind the scenes with First Lady Michelle Obama. The President has often said he would not be who he is without his wife. And Nightline co-anchor Cynthia McFadden sat down with the First Lady and is here now with more. Good morning, Cynthia.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, co-anchor, Nightline: Good morning, Lara. The First Lady's husband may be having a rough week but with an approval rating around 65 percent or higher, Michelle Obama is still very popular with the American people. We've been following the First Lady for the past several months and granted unusual access during this very high-stakes time in her life. I'll have a chance to sit down with Mrs. Obama at the White House.
MICHELLE OBAMA, First Lady of the United States: Are we going to keep moving this country forward? What are we going to do!
MCFADDEN: (voice over) She's her husband's not-so-secret weapon.
(On camera) How many days to go?
OBAMA: We're in the homestretch.
MCFADDEN: (voice over) Cris-crossing the country the past few weeks, not to mention a slew of talk shows.
MICHELLE OBAMA: He's funny. I'm funnier.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Happy anniversary –
MCFADDEN: And then there was her anniversary, not exactly the date of her dreams. She did get a hug from Ann Romney.
MCFADDEN: (on camera) Now I know that Ann Romney's playing for the other team. But is there a certain sisterhood between women who are in this position?
OBAMA: Absolutely. And this is something that Barack and I talk about, we've learned this over time. Whoever makes this kind of sacrifice, they deserve a pat on the back because that's how this democracy works.
MCFADDEN: So outside the White House there's always lots of chatter about how much is the First Lady influencing policy. How do you see your role in that regard?
OBAMA: I rarely step foot in the West Wing. In fact, people are shocked when they see me there.
MCFADDEN: (voice over) The First Lady has long said her most important role is Mom-in-Chief. And now the teenager.
MCFADDEN: (on camera) I have a 14-year-old son. He's got a question. It's hard enough to be 14, he said, if your parents aren't the President and First Lady. If you don't live in the White House. How do you help her negotiate that really treacherous territory of 14?
OBAMA: We point out, look around, you want to see hardship, you want to see struggle? You don't have it, kid. So I think giving her some perspective on what tough is. Being 14 and, you know, having the President as your father is way down on the list of tough.
MCFADDEN: Final question?
MCFADDEN: What would you like that you don't have right now?
OBAMA: Oh, gosh. I – you know what -- I feel so blessed and so content. I have what any parent would want. I've got a husband who loves me. I've got two kids that are healthy and happy. And I wouldn't dare ask for anything more.
(End Video Clip)
MCFADDEN: Well, that is just a small part of the time we spent with Mrs. Obama. And tonight on Nightline, we really get into whether her husband is just a little bit afraid of her. And her feelings about being the first African-American First Lady.
SPENCER: She's fascinating. You got her to talk.
MCFADDEN: She's really interesting. She's a big hugger. She's very warm in person. Take a look tonight and see what you think.
SPENCER: Alright, Cynthia, thank you. Always great to see you. And everybody check out Cynthia's interview tonight on Nightline, special series "The Contenders: Family Ties." And Ann Romney will be our special guest Wednesday morning live, right here on GMA.