Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz reported Thursday on black females on the Michelle Obama beat, and whether their shared race and gender produces gauzier coverage. "Indeed, most write with enthusiasm, in some cases even admiration, about the first lady as a long-awaited role model for black women." Kurtz found:
"Without a doubt, I identify with her as a brown-skinned African American woman," [Newsweek’s Allison] Samuels says. "Now we have Michelle and see her as a mother, a lawyer, a wife, and she's doing it fabulously." Samuels got to interview Obama during the campaign and "we had a girlfriend-to-girlfriend moment. We did connect."
Post writer Robin Givhan, one of the most syrupy writers on the Michelle beat, tried to suggest "news" wins out:
"We all bring the full depth of our experiences to the facts we emphasize, the questions we ask, the stories that get us excited," says Givhan, who was a year behind Obama at Princeton, although their paths did not cross. "But in the end, news is news."
But perhaps one of the reasons Kurtz included the Postie on his list was her recent gauzy essay comparing Mrs. Obama to the fictional mother-lawyer Clair Huxtable of "The Cosby Show." That was not a "news is news" story. It was a saccharine-sweet pudding of celebration and flattery, where "observers grasp for adjectives to describe Obama's combination of professional accomplishment and soccer-mom maternalism. It's no wonder so many eye her with awe and disbelief." Kurtz added:
Givhan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer, moved here from New York last month to cover the beat, which she describes as "really rich because there is that element of race that has not been there before." At the same time, she says, "no one noted all the white chicks covering Laura Bush."
Perhaps that’s because no one really noted Laura Bush very much. That wasn’t much of a "beat." They certainly weren’t comparing her to Jackie Kennedy or lovable sitcom moms. Reporters for the major media were primarily interested in trying to find out where she was more liberal than her husband.
Kurtz offered readers just a small sample of the goo that’s been coming from Rachel Swarns of the New York Times, Nia-Malika Henderson of the Politico (a common cooing voice on Michelle stories on TV), Samuels, and Givhan:
In May, Swarns wrote in the Times that "the divide between the White House and the impoverished black and immigrant neighborhoods in the nation's capital has often seemed insurmountable," but that Obama "has become something of a human bridge between the two worlds."
The day before the inauguration, Henderson wrote in Politico that "to fashionistas, she's Michelle O, the new Jackie....Post-feminists see Michelle Obama as one of their own, the having-it-all Harvard-educated lawyer....African American women say she'll upend age-old stereotypes of the angry black woman who can't find a good man, or keep him when she does."
Samuels opined in December, on behalf of her "sista friends," that "Michelle has the power to change the way African Americans see ourselves, our lives and our possibilities....There are still woefully few examples of solid, stable black marriages."
And in The Post last month, Givhan likened Obama's cultural impact to that of Clair Huxtable, the mom on "The Cosby Show." The first lady, she wrote, "serves as a symbol of middle-class progress, feminist achievement, affirmative-action success and individual style....And she has done all this on the world stage...while being black."
There is really no question at all whether these writers have favored Mrs. Obama. No one should assume a bias before reading, but after reading copy like this, it's obvious that their editors knew what they were getting, and sent them out for more.