New Book on President and First Lady Is Creating a Stir

The new book by a New York Times reporter describes tension between First Lady Michelle Obama and the president’s staff — with the White House disputing the assertions.

Posted: 01/09/2012 08:27 PM EST
Barack Michele Obama

(Photo: Little, Brown and Company)

Even before its release, the new book about the President Barack Obama and his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, started making headlines. And the book, which describes tension between the First Lady and President’s staff, has continued to be a source of attention and controversy.

The book, “The Obamas,” by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the relationship between the first couple, while reporting a number of details. For example, the book said that Michelle Obama wanted to stay in Chicago and delay moving to Washington after the president’s inauguration.

The most attention so far has been devoted to the book’s description of the tension between the first lady and Rahm Emanuel, the president’s initial chief of staff. Kantor writes that Michelle Obama was less than delighted about the President’s selection of Emanuel — who is now mayor of Chicago — and that the two were increasingly at odds over President Obama’s methods of promoting his agenda, particularly in the areas of health care and immigration.

Not long after excerpts of the book became widely circulated, the White House issued a statement that contended that there were some lapses in Kantor’s reporting.

“The book, an over-dramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, in a stinging rebuke.

“The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and first lady, reflect little more than the author’s own thoughts. These secondhand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated.”

By Monday, Kantor was defending her reporting on NBC’s Today Show, telling interviewer Matt Lauer that, “According to my reporting, there were times she was really frustrated.”

In defending the reporting in her book, Kantor said: “The book is mostly reported through top aides and close friends of the president and first lady. I’m one of the only people to get access to the East Wing and the first lady’s staff there.”

She added, “What I found is that aides and friends were able to tell stories that the Obamas don’t talk about, like what happened the first time they tried to go home to Chicago.”

When Lauer asked if she had taken poetic license, Kantor responded, saying “They haven’t disputed any of the facts.” She added that, despite Michelle Obama’s growing interest in helping to shape policy issues, the first lady had not been involved in any of the day-to-day activities in the West Wing of the White House, among the president’s inner circle.

"The Obamas" is described as being the product of more than four years of research and hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 200 people, including current and former White House officials, aides and cabinet members.

Kantor’s publishers, Little, Brown and Company, said that the research on the book also included interviews with the Obamas’ friends and relatives, former neighbors, employees and colleagues, and members of Congress. Several top advisers and close friends, including David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, Susan Sher, Eric Whitaker and Marty Nesbitt, each gave many hours of interview time.

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