On Tuesday's "Nightline," ABC gushed over Michelle Obama with the enthusiasm and objectivity usually reserved for "Access Hollywood" reporters. Correspondent Yunji de Nies lauded the "rock star" first lady for her fashion sense and for speaking openly about balancing work and family. "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden asserted that "with her muscular arms and outfits, she's become, well, a model first lady."
De Nies talked with liberal Washington Post journalist Sally Quinn, who has written for years about D.C. style. Asked about a recent Michelle Obama spread in Vogue magazine, Quinn enthused, "Well, for one thing, I think she's a sexual person. The pictures are attractive. They're womanly. They're sexy, but not in an overt way." She then went on to assert that Washington has often tried to force women to downplay their sexuality. This prompted de Nies to breathlessly wonder, "Is Washington and the world ready for such a modern first lady?"
Before playing a clip of Mrs. Obama discussing her family, de Nies complimented the first lady for "speaking openly about the struggle of balancing work and family." Of course, that is something that previous presidential spouses have done, including Hillary Clinton.
De Nies and TheRoot.com reporter Dayo Olopade both agreed that Obama is a "rock star." Commenting on de Nies' observation that it's odd to see magazines with the President's wife next to those with pop stars, Olopade bizarrely claimed, "Well, you certainly didn't see Laura Bush doing that. You know, I think it's a lot easier to be a celebrity these days."
On the Root's website, Olopade expounded on the new role the first lady and her fitness play:
Her commanding presence, disciplined fitness regimen and rock-hard bod make her seem out of step with the traditional sidekick role of the first lady. And she is also ill-suited to the traditional cultural archetypes circumscribed for black women. She is neither Jezebel, the soft-witted, oversexed temptress, nor Mammy, the asexual nurturer.
A transcript of the March 10 segment, which aired at 11:59pm, follows:
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Michelle Obama, wife of the 44th president of the United States, has been described as her husband's rock. Ivy League educated, an accomplished lawyer and a mother of two young daughters. And now, with her muscular arms and outfits, she's become, well, a model first lady as Yunji de Nies reports.
YUNJI DE NIES: From the moment Michelle Obama took the stage at the Inaugural Neighborhood Ball, America just can't seem to get enough of the new first lady. She is photographed constantly, and is the cover girl of just about every major magazine, from People to Vogue to the latest New Yorker, a far cry from their last depiction of her. Survey any newsstand and you're bound to find her face. [Standing in a bookstore with Dayo Olopade.] It's sort of the weird juxtaposition there to see the first lady next to a pop star.
DAYO OLOPADE (Washington reporter, TheRoot.com): Right. Well, you certainly didn't see Laura Bush doing that. You know, I think it's a lot easier to be a celebrity these days. Media culture is really saturated and, of course, Michelle Obama is in her own right a rock star.
DE NIES: A rock star who even got Oprah to break the rules. In a first, the media maven will share the cover of her signature magazine. Mrs. Obama is on a mission to introduce herself, visiting federal agencies in Washington.
MICHELLE OBAMA: And for the people here in this agency, we are now your neighbors.
DE NIES: And speaking openly about the struggle of balancing work and family.
OBAMA: There isn't a day that goes by particularly after having kids that I don't wonder or worry about whether I'm doing the right thing for myself, for my family, for my girls.
DE NIES: The first lady wants to use her public profile to broaden the perception of African-American women. She told "People" magazine she thought posing for Vogue "was good for my daughters and little girls just like them who haven't seen themselves represented in these magazines, hopefully to talk more broadly about what beauty is, what intelligence is, what counts." Sally Quinn has covered Washington power players for the last three decades. What do you think these particular images say about who she is?
SALLY QUINN (Washington Post): Well, for one thing, I think she's a sexual person. The pictures are attractive. They're womanly. They're sexy, but not in an overt way. I mean, there's nothing tacky or unseemly about the way she dresses. But she's very much a woman and I think for so long in Washington any woman in a position of power has really tried to downplay her sexuality.
DE NIES: Is Washington and the world ready for such a modern first lady?
QUINN: Well, they better get ready. Because it's happening.
DE NIES: I'm Yunji de Nies in Washington for "Nightline."