Jodi Kantor Refutes First Lady Michelle Obama on ‘Angry Black Woman’
WASHINGTON – The Obama White House isn’t the first to try to kill the messenger, the storyteller of the time over which they preside. They’re just the latest attempting to control an image however they can, as the writer does her best to defend her motives and methods against the fan politics that puts personality and celebrity love over everything else. Jodi Kantor is just the latest author given access to the White House who’s feeling their wrath, because what she heard from people doesn’t comport with the image makers inside.
Jodi Kantor: Corie, I never called the first lady an “angry black woman.” Not in those words, and not by implication. The book shows her as an impassioned and supportive if sometimes critical spouse, loving mom, and most of all, as a successful professional trying to figure out the very confusing role of first lady. To me, that’s the most fascinating storyline in the book– watching Michelle Obama figure out this role for herself.
Wednesday on Facebook, Jodi Kantor, the author of The Obamas, did a chat through the New York Times FB page. Before moderators got fully engaged the nastiness coming from Obama supporters was off the charts, most of which teed off on the “angry black woman” charge. Once the moderators showed up things calmed down, with the most offensive comments taken down.
It should go without saying that I identified with the attacks on Kantor from Obama die hards, which I’ve also received going back to 2007, but which escalated when my book The Hillary Effect was published. Obviously, with Kantor’s connections to the traditional media and publishing worlds, as well as her reach, her experience is no doubt much more acute.
What we’re talking about here is a back and forth between an author and the subject of her book. Like anyone doing a book on such an electric subject as the Obamas, or Hillary Rodham Clinton, to get it published is an ordeal in itself. The fact checking and scrutiny is overwhelming at times. Quite candidly, publishing The Hillary Effect and getting it just right was a bear, but once I did and found the right team it was worth it. That I take on the media, which is deserved but not appreciated, is an additional challenge for my team. Kantor’s job to get it right, fair and true had to be intense.
Twice in the FB chat, Kantor addressed the “angry black woman” characterization, which she was charged with making.
Jodi Kantor: Bene, just to be clear, “The Obamas” does not say that Mrs. Obama is an angry black woman, in those words or by implication. (Nor does it say that she and Rahm Emanuel clashed directly.) For five years, I’ve been working on portraying her in an accurate, human, well-rounded way. Check out the work and decide for yourself: http://jodikantor.net/articles/
The “angry black woman” characterization actually came from First Lady Michelle Obama herself in an interview with Gayle King, who’s now part of a brand new CBS morning show. It was obviously meant as a preemptive strike to shape the narrative about Kantor’s book, implying it’s unfair, even factually inaccurate, which goes directly at the author’s credibility.
As Kantor wrote on Wednesday, she tapped “200 ppl, including 33 White House aides, and the White House cooperated with the book,” but after Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Man things got a lot more difficult. It’s easy to say that the secretive nature of the Obamas will only get moreso, with the ring around them tightening after her book.
I’ve come to the defense of First Lady Michelle Obama many times. That she went to a friendly journalistic source like Gayle King for this interview isn’t surprising at all. Her defensiveness however and choosing to invoke the “angry black woman” charge against author Jodi Kantor is worth noting, especially since the author denies the characterization completely. That Kantor also offers an archive to prove her goal is fairness is something to which I can also relate. Unfortunately, in the Obama era, blaming the messenger for telling even a true, fair and accurate story is not appreciated by subjects, especially when it’s the Obamas. They’re just not used to the unvarnished treatment.
I jumped in at one point when the talk turned to first ladies, with Kantor, whom I do not know, addressed one of my comments:
Taylor Marsh: Your comment about first ladies, that there is “condescension towards first ladies out there,” is a very important subject. Nancy Reagan, as well as Hillary Clinton, were formidable women with deep impact in their husband’s presidencies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that someone as deeply intelligent and strong as Mrs. Obama would run into some friction with the men’s club inside the White House.
Taylor: I think you are on to something. No man gets elected to the presidency without a really canny, determined, effective spouse. And then the first couple gets to the White House, and the new first lady gets recast as a helpmeet, and we know what happens to first ladies who are deemed meddlers— unelected figures who hold unearned powers. One of the most fascinating things in my reporting was watching Mrs. Obama, who is a very frank and strongminded person, wrangle with this. Or even think about the decisions she has to make in terms of how and when to give feedback to her husband. The president, any president, is criticized constantly, daily. So if you’re the first lady, do you really want him to come home to more criticism? But on the other hand, if you think he’s making a mistake, you have a moral and spousal imperative to stop him, because the stakes are so, so high. If you read my book, please keep that difficult choice in mind throughout, and think through how you would handle it.
It’s easy to understand why Mrs. Obama is sensitive to the “angry black woman” tag when it’s actually made. But sometimes being too defensive about an author telling a story based on interviews, as Kantor has done, reveals something else entirely, which is part of the story Kantor is telling in her book, though I haven’t finished it yet.
The good news for Jodi Kantor is that Mrs. Obama helped her sell even more books than she would have if the First Lady hadn’t called her friend Gayle King and gone on CBS to complain.
Taylor Marsh is the author of the new e-book, The Hillary Effect – Politics, Sexism and the Destiny of Loss, which is now available in print on Amazon. Marsh is a veteran political analyst and commentator. She has reported from the White House, been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her new media blog.