ABC's McFadden Gushes to Michelle Obama: Do You Face 'Extra Pressures and Responsibilities?'

Nightline co-anchor Cynthia McFadden continued her fawning, multi-part profile of Michelle Obama on Monday night, worrying about the "extra responsibilities" that Mrs. Obama faces as an African American First Lady. She then offered this softball: "Is it different to be a black child growing up in America today than it was four years ago?" [See video below. MP3 audio here.]

Fellow co-anchor Bill Weir bragged that his colleague had been "granted rare access" to Mrs. Obama. McFadden wondered if the President is "a bit intimidated, a little bit afraid" of his wife. The journalist then pushed Mrs. Obama to brag about the impact she's had.

McFadden hyped, "Not only are you the First Lady, but you have a historic role as the first African-American first lady. Did that come with extra pressures and responsibilities?"

She followed-up by hyping how historic Mrs. Obama is and the impact she's had on young black children.

The First Lady accepted the compliment: "You know what, I think that because Barack and I are here,  I do think kids today see a bigger world and understand and it's not so threatening."

Monday Nightline and Good Morning America (which excerpted the interview) featured no tough questions. McFadden promised more on Tuesday.

In an interview in 2009, McFadden admitted that reporters during the last election saw Barack Obama as a "bright hope in the distance."

A transcript of the October 8 segment can be found below:


11:35

BILL WEIR: Life in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama in a candid interview. How she keeps her marriage and politics separate.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I rarely step foot in the West Wing.

WEIR: And her strategy for keeping her daughters grounded as they grow up in the biggest of spotlights.

11:44

WEIR: It has been a bit of a rough patch for President Obama following his roundly criticized debate performance last week. Times like these, a compassionate partner and not-so-secret weapon are appreciated more than ever and over the last several months And over the last several months, my co-anchor Cynthia McFadden was granted rare access to that person, First Lady Michelle Obama and joins us now. Good to see you. And I'm guessing big questions and small?

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Absolutely, Bill. Good evening. That's right. What's it really like to be married to the leader of the free world and raise children in the White House and how involved is she in setting the President's political agenda? Well, we asked Michelle Obama those questions and many others at the White House and on the road. With the election now only 29 days away, tonight, a close look at the First Lady, for our special series, "The Contenders: Family Ties." Looking at her here, it's hard to imagine she was ever reluctant to play the role.

MICHELLE OBAMA: [On stage] Serving as your First Lady is an honor and a privilege. But back when we first came together four years ago I still had some concerns about this journey we'd begun. [Walking in to talk to McFadden] How's everyone?

MCFADDEN: In a candid White House interview the First Lady explained what it was like for her back then.       

MICHELLE OBAMA: The political life wasn't my first choice. We had been doing this for a while and you know, the toll that this takes on a family is real. So, you know, he knew enough to know that this wasn't just a "sure, honey, whatever you want."

MCFADDEN: If you had said no, we can't do this, would we not be sitting here today.

MICHELLE OBAMA: We would not and that's why I couldn't say no.

CRAIG ROBINSON: Her brother, Craig Robinson, remembers then-Senator Obama enlisted him to help sell her on the idea to convince him to run for president.

ROBINSON: He's like,  "I think I'm going to take a run at the presidency." I was like "What? Have you talked to your wife about this?" He was like, "No!" So, he says to me, he says, "You got to do me favor, you got to talk to her because she's not going to go for it." I was like, "you're right, darn right she's not going to go for it."

MCFADDEN: Craig tells me–

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah.

MCFADDEN: --That your husband was outright nervous to tell you that he wanted to run for president. Is he a little bit intimidated, a little bit afraid of you, do you think?

MICHELLE OBAMA: No. No, not at all. I mean, this is one of the things I love about Barack, he's so used to having strong women in his life, you know, it's odd, I tell him that this is somehow, you know, God keeping his testosterone in check, because, really, he's surrounded by women. You know, he grew up with a single mom, his grandmother was the true head of the household. He married me. He's got Malia and Sasha who do not mince their words and he's sustained himself through a life a strong women.

MCFADDEN: Her strength, she says, comes from the way she grew up, from the south side of Chicago where he father worked as a pump operator for the city and her mother was a homemaker to the halls of Princeton where her parents proudly sacrificed so she and her brother could get an Ivy League education.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I choke up, you know, when I talk about this stuff because it is why we're here.

MCFADDEN: Needless to say, her own daughters inhabit a much different world. Sasha is now 11 and Malia, a teenager. It's hard enough to be 14 if your parents aren't the President and First Lady. How do you help her negotiate that really treacherous territory of 14?

MICHELLE OBAMA: We don't do a lot of, sort of "oh, woe is me" kind thing. She's got a great life, she's got great friends, she's happy. It's kind of hard, especially as we point out, "look around. You want to see hardship? You want to see struggle? You don't have it, kid." Having the President as your father way down on the list of tough. Just like, you'll be fine.

MCFADDEN: She often refers to herself as mom in chief, she comes to the role with a high-powered pedigree, graduate of Harvard Law School he ultimately walked way from her career so her husband could pursue his political ambitions.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I'm his biggest supporter.

MCFADDEN: But are you also brutally honest?

MICHELLE OBAMA: I'm honest, absolutely.

MCFADDEN: You think something has not gone right you say--

MICHELLE OBAMA: if I think it will help him. You know, but I also temper my remarks because sometimes you know, in a job like this, the last thing the President of the United States needs when he walks in the door to come home is somebody who is drilling him and questioning him about the decisions and choices that he's made. So, there are definitely times when, you know, I may feel something but I'll hold back because I'll know he'll either get to that on his own or just not time.

MCFADDEN: So, outside the White House, there is always lots of chatter about how much is the first lady influencing policy? How do you see your role in that regard?

MICHELLE OBAMA: I rarely step foot in the west wing. In fact, people are shocked when they see me there but rarely walk in that office because the truth is, he's got so many wonderful advisers. So, I don't even have the expertise and the time in to be able to provide the kind of advice and guidance that he's already getting. So–

MCFADDEN: I guess always the pillow at night if you really feel passionate about something. Win or lose this election, she says, she's come to love the job she was so reluctant to pursue. Not only are you the First Lady, but you have a historic role as the first African-American first lady. Did that come with extra pressures and responsibilities?

MICHELLE OBAMA: I haven't had time to solely step back and reflect yet on my role as the first African-American. I just want to make sure that I'm doing a good job.

MCFADDEN: Is it different to be a black child growing up in America today than it was four years ago?

MICHELLE OBAMA: You know what, I think that because Barack and I are here,  I do think kids today see a bigger world and understand and it's not so threatening.

MCFADDEN: As an example a photo that hangs in the hall outside the Oval Office. Showing a little boy who had asked the president, "Does your hair feel like mine?"

MICHELLE OBAMA: And Barack said why "don't you touch it?" And bent over and after he touched it he said, "yeah, it does feel like mine." It speaks to who my husband is at his core. If this is what it takes to make all kids in this country feel some kind of connection to this place and to these opportunities and see themselves in these seats and to thrive, every single one of our kids, then he will do it and I'll do it and that's what makes this job so special.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org