While The Washington Post wrote about reporters revolving into the Obama administration, the more common pattern is reporters who flatter, pander, and powder the Obamas in the “news” pages. Krissah Thompson should be on Michelle Obama’s payroll. Splashed all over the front of Style today is this concept: “Rest up. You’re going to need extra energy to even read about all the places that the first lady has gone to get to know D.C.”
Following the all-caps headline “MICHELLE OBAMA’S WASHINGTON" and a huge graphic of eight images of Mrs. Obama in her many activities, the Post story went on for two entire pages. Thompson began the smoochy prose from the top:
Washingtonians, how well do you know your city? Have you visited more than 34 restaurants and set foot in two dozen schools? Been to the Kennedy Center more than a handful of times — unless, of course, you’re a season ticket holder? Ever volunteered at Miriam’s Kitchen or talked to the teens at Mary’s Center? Had yogurt at Pinkberry in Dupont Circle and ice cream at Thomas Sweet in Georgetown? Michelle Obama has.
This is not that an impressive a list for a Washingtonian to beat in four years, but Krissah is positively breathless. This list continues: “She has thrown on a baseball cap and walked her dog, Bo, across the Mall to view the cherry blossoms. She hosted a milkshakes-and-burgers birthday party for her youngest daughter, Sasha, at Red Robin in Dulles. She visits her friends in their homes. Secret Service SUVs parked on D.C.’s residential streets attract little interest.”
The problem is the Post insisted without a lot of proof that Mrs. Obama is positively historic in all this: “She is one of the first in many generations of first ladies to see Washington beyond the transactional corridors of power. Other first ladies, by comparison, have had projects in Washington. Obama has worked her way into the fabric of the city.” Even if this were true, it's also transparently a public-relations objective of the First Lady's Press Office.
Here is a quick guide to the four sections of get-a-room flattery on pages C-10 and C-11:
– “OUT ON THE TOWN” begins: “Michelle Obama toggles between wife, mother, fashion icon, promoter of causes, and girlfriend. As in, ‘Girlfriend, let’s get together.” As in “I need some girlfriend time.” (Italics theirs.)
– “VOLUNTEERING” begins like this: “Talk to Mary’s Center President Maria Gomez long enough about Michelle Obama and tears come down her cheeks....What causes Gomez to well upis what she calls ‘the power of having been connected to her.’”
– “SCHOOLS” carried a sound point: Mrs. Obama has “held events east of the Anacostia river at least 20 times,” underscoring her attention to poor black neighborhoods in southeast DC. But then Thompson claims this is not “overtly political,” when it can be quite easily described (at least in part) as political.
This is the take on Ward 8, represented now by disgraced former mayor Marion Barry, who’s still getting into ethical messes: “Michelle Obama would do to what her staff calls ‘unexpected places’ and put her energy into Washington’s other city: the part that is not gentrified, not moneyed, not overtly political.”
The Obamas aren’t in danger of losing DC’s electoral votes, but this can be seen as politically scripted. Thompson utterly fails in the “Schools” section to note the Obamas avoided the city’s public schools for their children. That’s a “fabric of the city” they rejected.
– “INCOGNITO” is the most ridiculous of the four. Michelle Obama visited a Target store in Arlington, Virginia in a way that simply cannot be factually described as “incognito.” (Even the WashPost acknowledged that at the time.) When you alert the Associated Press photographer to come take pictures – and secure Target’s cooperation in advance – you’re not going “incognito.”
It’s just as ridiculous for Thompson to ask “How is it that one of the world’s most famous women moves around Washington undetected? What’s her secret?” This opened the door to more praise from friends.
Thompson began this section: “Being an ordinary woman, of the sort who shops at Target and goes to her kids’ soccer matches, is a crucial part of Michelle Obama’s game – in the way that pillbox hats, horseback riding, and speaking French were part of Jacqueline Kennedy’s.”
At least they admit there’s an image “game” being played here, although again, the “ordinary woman” that shops at Target doesn’t typically send her daughters to Sidwell Friends (for about $70,000 a year for the two children).