Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jodi Kantor

Jodi Kantor is a Washington correspondent at the New York Times. From a Q & A about her new book, The Obamas, with Elizabeth Day at the Observer:

One of the most interesting chapters in your book deals with the discomfort faced by the Obamas when they realised most of the staff in the White House are of African-American descent. Has their tenure improved race relations in the US?

It's way too early to tell. When I wrote the book, I felt that that question was still beyond our grasp. The question I focused on was: what is the day-to-day experience of being the first African-American president and first lady? For example, when the invitation came for Michelle Obama to appear on the cover of Vogue, her advisers were split by race. The African-American advisers really wanted her to do the cover because not that many African-American role models had done so. On the other hand, the white advisers were far more cautious because the country was in terrible economic straits and Vogue is a pure luxury magazine – the newsstand price alone is something like $5. In fact, she chose to do the cover and there was very little criticism. To me, that is one tiny look into the real mosaic of what's going on.

Have the Obamas read the book?

I don't know. I haven't heard back.

You say in your acknowledgements that you became a political reporter for the New York Times at the same time as you became a mother, did you ever find it hard to balance the two?

At one point during the 2008 campaign I got called up and screamed at by an Obama aide. It was 7pm and I'd just got home. My daughter was about two and she was sitting on my lap and she took control of the cell phone and began singing the Barney song down the phone: "I love you, you love me. We're as happy as can be." It was just surreal and kind of amazing on her part. In a way, it was the best thing to say to an over-agitated campaign aide.

Your book makes it clear the Obamas have distinct personalities – you say he's more cerebral, finds it difficult to connect with the public, whereas she's warmer and more feisty. Do you think it's the differences rather than the similarities that make their marriage work?

Absolutely. I don't think he would be president without Michelle Obama because she's the one who connects him with other people.

Can a marriage ever truly be one of equals when one partner is the leader of the free world?

The answer to that is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue