While Michelle Obama was meeting with doctors and patients at the Upper Cardozo Health Center, nearly two dozen journalists stood behind a white rope in a small room upstairs, most finally growing so tired during the hour-long wait that they sat on the floor.No surprise here. Despite the fact that Michelle Obama has used her First Lady status to speak out on issues concerning gays much than she has those concerning Blacks, her minions in the black press at large could care less and will continue to kiss her ass with nary a word of criticism. The last thing Black reporters want to do to piss Michelle off--they know what happened when Vera Baker did.
Finally the first lady emerged, read a short speech about releasing federal stimulus money for community health clinics -- including $2.5 million for the Northwest Washington center -- and greeted a handpicked audience with handshakes and hugs. Then she turned and left, and the press pool quietly filed out.
Rachel Swarns of the New York Times and The Washington Post's Robin Givhan were among those herded behind the rope Monday. They and the other main beat reporters -- Newsweek's Allison Samuels, Darlene Superville of the Associated Press and Politico's Nia-Malika Henderson -- have something in common: They are all African American women. Perhaps this gives them a richer cultural understanding of Obama as a trailblazer.
Indeed, most write with enthusiasm, in some cases even admiration, about the first lady as a long-awaited role model for black women. "Without a doubt, I identify with her as a brown-skinned African American woman," 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."
But if their bosses hoped these staffers would receive special access, some secret-handshake entry into the East Wing -- or even a casual wave at a health clinic -- they were mistaken, at least thus far. None of the beat writers has been granted an interview since the inauguration. Instead, they must piece together a mosaic from glimpses of Obama, who has a limited public schedule and a staff that fiercely guards her privacy and her image. (Other reporters, of varied ethnicities, dip in and out of writing about the first lady.) Whether racial and gender identification produces a gauzier, more favorable portrayal of Obama is perhaps too early to judge. After all, no one raises questions when an Irish American male reporter covers a pol named Murphy. And with her carefully crafted focus on her children, affordable fashion and such reduced-fat apple pie issues as healthy eating, Obama has done little to warrant sharp criticism.