NYT's Powell Defends Michelle Obama on MSNBC

The Obama campaign is trying to re-create Michelle Obama after her stumbles on the campaign trail, and the mainstream media are more than willing to pitch in.

Earlier today, NewsBusters contributor Clay Waters, director of the MRC’s Times Watch project, critiqued a New York Times story, written by Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor, which helped Obama soften her image and suggested that her "proud of my country" remarks were unfairly covered.

Powell reprised his work spinning Michelle Obama on MSNBC today.

The Times staffer sat down with MSNBC's Tamron Hall during the 9 AM hour of the June 18 "MSNBC News Live." During this time, Powell claimed that the potential first lady’s harsh image has "certainly been imposed on her," as though Mrs. Obama’s statements do not reflect who she really is and that those who criticize her public pronouncements are somehow putting words in her mouth.

Hall asserted that there was only one statement made by Obama that was controversial: "[W]e’re talking about one incident, aren't we? In February, a very crucial, no doubt, incident, but she's not had a series of this." The incident she spoke of is Obama’s statement that "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country."

The MSNBC anchor seems to forget Obama has also publicly proclaimed that America is "just downright mean" and suggested in November of 2007 that more African Americans were supporting Hillary Clinton for president because they’ve been oppressed.

Powell did correct Hall's claim that Obama has only made one controversial statement but only mentioned Obama’s tendency to lecture those in the audience:

But there's also been a couple of other comments where she’s been seen as, if you will, sort of lecturing people. You know, talking about how, you know, if this campaign is successful you're gonna have to sorta change your life. So there’s been a couple of these remarks that have sorta seemed as being, if you will, somewhat harsher.

 

The segment began at 9:29 a.m. and is transcribed below:

 

TAMRON HALL, host: Welcome back. MSNBC the place for politics and Michelle Obama, the unauthorized biography. The Chicago Sun-Times today reports that Washington Post magazine’s Liza Mundi is writing a new book about Barack Obama’s wife but Michelle Obama is not cooperating. Meantime, there’s word Michelle Obama’s getting a political makeover, if you will. The New York Times reports the Obama campaign is working on showcasing the softer side of Michelle. New York Times political reporter Michael Powell’s story is on the front page of the Times today. Michael, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL POWELL, New York Times political reporter: Sure.

HALL: So, you wrote here that her husband’s presidential campaign is giving her image a subtle makeover with a new speech in the works to emphasize her humble roots.

POWELL: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s been a sense in the last, um, the last couple months in particular that she’s, um, she’s acquired a, um, harsher image, or it’s certainly been imposed on her. She’s been defined this way. And this is a marked change from when she first came onto the scene last fall when she was seen as I think an unadulterated blessing for the campaign. She was very good on the stump, she was even called “the closer” in Iowa. But, of late, there’s, they’ve stressed a number, that is the opponents, a number of her remarks that have kind of rubbed people wrong and they’ve kinda created this much harsher image and the campaign is trying to counteract that.

HALL: David Axelrod was on Morning Joe. He, of course, is the Obama campaign advisor. He was asked about your story today. Here’s what he had to say.

DAVID AXELROD (from Morning Joe): I absolutely reject the notion of any kind of makeover. Absolutely not. I don’t know where they got that from.

HALL: So, where did it come from, Michael?

POWELL: Well, in part it came from his people and, of course, he’s not gonna say that there’s any kind of a makeover. And, it’s not, as they say, we did use the worlds “subtle makeover.” It’s not as though she’s going to now come out and make, you know, crumpets and tea for people. But there is the fact an effort to kind of counteract an image that has very much been out there for the last couple months.

HALL: Yeah, how much of this is about the comments she made in February? I know that you just refer to, many people say “things she said on the campaign trail.” But, we’re talking about one incident, aren’t we? In February, a very crucial…

POWELL: Yeah, sure.

HALL: …no doubt, incident, but she’s not had a series of this. Is it about this one comment or this strong personality that we’re seeing similar to what we saw when Hillary Clinton was the first lady?

POWELL: Well, I think that’s a very good question because I think these things come up in, in each cycle with the first ladies, particularly, frankly, with strong, professional women, right. I mean, they are, they are people that are used to speaking in their own right and this is a bizarre sort of role, right, first lady. I mean, there’s sort of no analogy in public life or look how badly, frankly, Bill Clinton auditioned for it in the last couple months. Um, so yes, I think that, that what it is is the one comment when she talks about sort of the first time I really loved my country and it was in reference to the great kinda outpouring of voters and this sorta thing. But there’s also been a couple of other comments where she’s been seen as, if you will, sort of lecturing people. You know, talking about how, you know, if this campaign is successful you’re gonna have to sorta change your life. So there’s been a couple of these remarks that have sorta seemed as being, if you will, somewhat harsher.

HALL: Right. Well, she’ll be on the View today as a co-host so we’ll see how that works out. If you can survive that, maybe survive anything. Thank you, Michael.

POWELL: Thank you.